Double Diamond by Tanya Hess

His hearing was the first sense to recover. Feeling would come soon. He had a terrible premonition that the coming pain would be something he'd never wish on his worst enemy.

With a low groan Andrew Peterson opened his eyes. He blinked to clear the rain and melting snow from his frozen lashes, and inhaled a long breath of cold damp air. “Shit.” He exhaled. “This can't be good.” His words echoed back at him, bouncing off the fog.
Double Diamond
Double Diamond by Tanya Hess
He was lying on his back just off the edge of run number 4 of Snowcap Mountain. His right leg was bent in an unnatural angle with his foot buried under a mound of snow near his right hip. Or at least he was going with the assumption it was buried. He was pretty sure if his foot had been cut off he wouldn't be lying here quite so calmly. He'd never lost an appendage before, but he was pretty sure there would be screaming involved. He hadn’t chosen this spot to have a rest, it had just happened…Suddenly, and, if he remembered correctly, and his leg was any indication, a bit violently. Luckily, or unluckily, depending on his mindset when he considered it, the fall hadn’t been violent enough to knock him out cold; at least he was pretty sure he hadn't lost consciousness. For a normally very confident guy he was feeling a bit unsure of….just about everything. He prided himself on being in control; coming out on top at everything he put his mind to; and winning at all costs. He snorted. He wasn't going to win any prizes for his latest accomplishment, that's for damn sure. A clump of wet snow fell from the branches above his head with a soft plop. If it wasn’t so cold, and wet, and he wasn’t in so much pain, the sounds of the slowly melting winter forest and hiss of the soft spring rain through the heavy pine canopy would almost be….. relaxing. The next plop of wet snow skimmed his temple. No, definitely not relaxing, he grimaced, and it was pretty obvious that lying here for much longer wasn't going to be an option, unless he wanted to be buried alive, or die of hypothermia. Neither of which sounded any more appealing than losing his foot. As he lay in the snow contemplating his options, rivulets of ice cold rainwater ran into his eyes, down his collar, and seeped through his ski pants from too many points to count. He made a mental note to send a letter of complaint to the clothing manufacturer when he got himself out of his current predicament, or maybe he'd just buy them out and sell them off piece by miserable piece. With a curse he hunched his shoulders and tried to bury deeper into his soggy down-filled ski jacket. Unfortunately, as a means to additional heat, it wasn’t terribly effective, either. Crap. All those retail outlets sold anymore was crap, and the high end ones sold expensive crap. What the hell had happened to quality manufacturing? Pride in workmanship? His ability to stay upright on skis? With a sigh he carefully moved, flexed, and wiggled, one muscle group at a time, as he took an inventory of the bodily harm he’d inflicted on himself when he fell. He gave up when he reached his right arm. The list was going to be a long one. It was probably safer to just hang out for a few more minutes, get his bearings, and figure out a plan. He wasn’t going to freeze to death that quickly. Or at least he hoped he wasn’t. That would really wreck his vacation plans. He shivered. Damn. With a deep breath he reached out the arm that appeared to have suffered the least amount of damage in the fall. Struggling for leverage in the heavy, wet snow he positioned his elbow at his side and pushed himself into a sitting position. He blinked more water from his eyes and examined his surroundings. He saw fir trees, their branches bending low from the weight of the snow piled on fragile limbs, and snow banks shrinking almost visibly under the steady onslaught of the pouring rain, but not much else past the opaque curtain of rain and the thick blanket of fog. Over the steady drip of melting snow, and the hiss of the unrelenting downpour, he could hear the faint whine of the ski lift, and the ghostly voices of his fellow skiers echoing across the slope. Instead of making him feel better they only emphasized the miserable conditions, and how cut off he was from the hustle and bustle of the beginner and intermediate runs. Not too many skiers would be coming down the double diamond in this weather, he acknowledged ruefully, and if he was being honest with himself, just a little fearfully. Most skiers weren’t as daring, adventurous….or just plain stupid, as he obviously was. He barked out a croaking laugh. The sound echoed back at him again, a bit mockingly this time, he thought. Andrew turned his head and, squinting his eyes against the downpour, gazed to his left into the woods seeing nothing but the saturated snow covered landscape. To his right he could just barely make out the ski trail through the trees and estimated that it was at least five meters to the edge of the run. Hell of a jump, he thought. Too bad he couldn’t stick the landing. Andrew strained to see further, but couldn’t make out where he was in relation to the rest of the hill. Nearly half way down the run, he thought, but couldn’t be absolutely sure. With a heavy sigh he let the pictures of the afternoon, like puzzle pieces falling into place, flash though his memory. The sudden downpour, splitting off from the girls, enjoying the free feeling of flying over the snowy, although wet, trail and then soaring through the air and tumbling…over and over and over. Angela was not going to be happy. He almost laughed at the understatement. She had trusted him to look after the girls. This was definitely not what she had in mind. He turned his head to examine the small spindly shrub his left leg was tangled with and gazed way up the large tree trunk only inches from his head. “You certainly aren’t on the trail anymore, Toto.” He paraphrased the line from The Wizard of Oz with a snort and made an attempt to straighten his leg. A sharp stab of pain sliced through his bent knee and he gave up with a groan. Leaving was obviously going to take a bit more time than he'd originally hoped. Catching a glimpse of one of his skis lying a few feet away, he carefully twisted around to look for the other. The movement caused something in his chest to grate together. Like a wire brush scraping against concrete: sharp, raw, intense, it hurt like hell. A cold sweat broke out on his brow and the snowy landscape weaved dizzily. A wave of nausea washed over him. This, he realized, was very definitely not good. Inch by careful inch he lay back into the snow, trying not to jar his injured ribs again. He closed his eyes, pressed one hand firmly against his wounded chest, and focused again on just breathing as he slumped lower against the pile of snow that had formed when he came to a skidding halt. He wiped one half-frozen glove across his face to clear the water out of his eyes, again. Damn this rain. What the hell had he been thinking? This was not skiing weather, and no one would ever convince him otherwise. If it hadn't been for the girls, and their pleading, tear filled eyes, he'd be safely reading in front of a roaring fire right now. A twinge of guilt hit him at the unfair thought; this wasn't the girls' fault, it was a result of his own stupidity. A fresh wave of pain washed over him. Clenching his teeth, he inhaled as deeply as his aching chest would allow, and then slowly exhaled. It was pretty obvious he wasn’t going to get out of here under his own steam, but that’s OK, it’s a small hill, he told himself optimistically, trying to keep his spirits up; someone would be sure to come along soon. He hoped fervently that he was right. Turning his face up to the sky, he looked through the dripping branches of the massive Douglas fir tree that soared high overhead and whistled tunelessly to break the eerie silence. Then, closing his eyes once again, he fell silent and listened… and waited for help to arrive. CHAPTER TWO 30 minutes earlier “Damn this rain.” Casey Adams scowled from her perch on the wooden bench propped conveniently just below the ski lift’s ramp. Trees resembling damp, half closed umbrellas trembled around her, spraying rain and ice chips on her half frozen body. She pulled back the sleeve of her jacket to check her watch for the 4th time in as many minutes. Shift was over at 5 and today it couldn’t come fast enough, unfortunately time currently seemed to be moving backwards. In the uniform of the Volunteer Ski Patrol with her bright blue first aid pack attached around her waist, her fuzzy yellow toque pulled down low over her copper curls and the hand knit green scarf her sister had made for her last Christmas wrapped tightly around her slender neck, she looking more like a colourful, shapeless, extremely wet, scarecrow than a woman. But womanly was not something she was aiming to be. Professional, competent…. even just warm was more important right now. Casey wiggled her cold, damp rear-end further back on the seat as she tried to gain some protection from the overhang of the lift station’s eaves and glared disgustedly out at the foggy, white, waterlogged world around her. The unceasing rain pounded at her body, blocking her vision. She could barely make out the next chair coming up the lift let alone tell how many more stupid…she caught the thought, feeling contrite…..not stupid, devoted, determined….maybe a bit desperate, she amended silently, skiers there were after that. She watched a lone middle aged, rotund woman wrapped head to toe in black garbage bags slip awkwardly from the next chair and splash through the slushy puddles to the top of the green run. The woman took off her scarf, squeezing it to wring out the rain water it had soaked up like a sponge, and retied it around her neck. Maybe stupid was more accurate after all. Roberta McAdam, her fellow patroller, didn’t look much better as she appeared through the fog. She hopped down from the ski lift chair and half skied, half walked over to join Casey. “Glamorous job we have, eh?” Casey asked as Roberta hopped up on the bench next to her. Roberta propped her skis up so the tails were in the snow and her legs were sticking straight out as if on a footrest, and looked at Casey like she’d lost her mind. “Yeah, that’s just what I was thinking.” Her smile turned into a laugh as she caught Casey’s eye. “Ok, maybe this isn't quite Whistler, or the Alps.” Casey conceded with a smile. Roberta took off her red toque and twisted about a cupful of water out of it on the ground at her feet. “Maybe not,” she agreed as she pulled the soaked hat back over her frizzy auburn curls. Their combined laughter brightened the atmosphere for a brief moment. A lot of Casey’s friends assumed she spent the day saving lives and helping people in danger, but that was only part of it and a small part at that. The rest of the time was usually spent moving boundary lines, cleaning up, helping with security and safety, as she was doing right now, or occasionally even cutting avalanches– a potentially dangerous job that involved skiing across the edge of a cliff that was expected to turn unstable and causing the avalanche to discharge. The logic being that it would release when the build up of snow was still relatively small and could be controlled, as opposed to allowing it the opportunity to catch an unwary skier in its path when it released on its own. It was true that everything she did contributed to the overall safety of the mountain and it could be fun, even exciting, but glamorous? Not a chance. But she wouldn't change anything about it, even if she could. Casey watched the skiers descend one by one. “Were you out moving the boundary lines on the Pinnacle peak?” she asked absently. “I heard the snow is melting pretty quickly over that way.” “Yeah,” Roberta said. She too had her attention on the kids sliding through the slush. “It’s melting fast on the southern slopes so we’ve had to put more warning makers everywhere and close off a few of the smaller runs. There’s a lot of mud now.” Casey grunted, “I’m not surprised”, she said. “I still can’t believe how many people still ski in this weather.” She shook her head. “Back East they wouldn’t dream of hitting the slopes in these conditions.” “That’s only because rain would turn all that ice into a skating rink.” Casey laughed, “You might be right.” “Ooh, look at that!” Roberta whistled softly and nudged Casey with her shoulder. “He sure is a purty one.” She drawled. “Purty” didn’t begin to cover it. But Casey nodded anyway as the man, clad head to toe in black Gore-Tex, jumped effortlessly down from the chair and then waited patiently for two small girls in the chair behind him. Once they were off safely he guided them down the ramp. He was tall, well over 6 feet; and ruggedly handsome. He moved like a dancer, strong and fluid, and made skiing in the slush look easy. “He has muscles.” Roberta voiced the conclusion Casey had just come to as she watched him move through the heavy snow as if it wasn’t there at all. “Yes, he does.” She drawled. They watched for a few more minutes as the dark stranger waited until the two girls were safely on their way down the beginner run and then skied over to the top of #4 and hopped down the double diamond mogul run. “Now he’s someone I wouldn’t mind getting in my toboggan.” Roberta referred to the rescue toboggan she was responsible for piloting. “How is it that you can make even that sound dirty?” Casey laughed at her friend. “And let’s not wish for accidents. I’m heading straight down to the chalet when we finish up here for some hot chocolate. I’d rather not do it by way of the first aid hut.” "Mmmm, chocolate.” Roberta turned from her contemplation of the area where the man had disappeared. “That does sound heavenly.” “Yes, it does,” Casey agreed. “Now stop bugging me, I have a job to do." "Son of A….!” Casey broke off the curse she was afraid was going to be too colourful for the family friendly face of the mountain, and scowled as a frigid stream of water found its way down the back of her neck. She pulled the green wool scarf a little tighter around her throat. Her sister picked the colour because she thought it matched her eyes. Casey had been too polite to argue but there was no way her eyes were drab olive green. Bright forest, or a relaxing seafoam maybe, but olive? not a chance. “You guys OK out there?” Like a curious gopher, Gerry poked his blond dreadlocked head out of the lift hut door. Even shouting to be heard over the deafening wind as he was, Casey could barely make out his words. “As OK as any idiot sitting in the rain in the middle of the winter,” Casey shouted back at the concerned lift operator, her attention still on the batch of skiers sliding off the lift. No falls so far. Knock on wood, or ice. “Why don’t you come in and warm yourself up for a few minutes?” Casey managed to piece together from Gerry’s next round of mumbled noises. “Absolutely.” Roberta smiled back at him and hopped up to click out of her skis. “Traitor,” Casey shot her a mock angry glare and got a smile and perky wave in response. She watched as Roberta climbed awkwardly up the ramp between descending skiers. “You coming, Casey?” Gerry called as he slid to one side to allow Roberta room to enter the narrow doorway to the control booth. “Nah, thanks anyway, there’s only a few minutes left to my shift up here.” She turned to face the open doorway, “I’m afraid if I warm up, I may never want to come back out again.” Casey yelled back, and flashed a warm smile at him. Quite a feat considering the rest of her body resembled a sodden block of ice. Gerry smiled back. “If you say so.” The wind suddenly died down to a dull roar. He wiped a drop of rain from his cheek and continued in a more normal tone. “I just spoke to the lower lift and chair number 22 will be the last skier. We’re shutting this top lift down early tonight.” He shrugged expressively. “I guess they finally decided the weather was too bad to keep us open.” Casey slanted him a sardonic glance and waved in acknowledgment. “Figures!” She muttered under her breath. "My shift up here is supposed to end in 5 minutes anyway." She wiped a long spray of water off the yellow sleeve of her jacket. “That’s management for you.” Gerry saluted cockily and disappeared back inside. Roberta waved cheekily from her warm, dry seat. Casey was tempted to give her the finger but decided it was a bit too rude a gesture around so many kids, so resigned herself to sticking her tongue out at her. Childish? Yes, but it was better than nothing. Casey sighed heavily, her breath exploding from her mouth like a mini thunder cloud, and turned back to watch yet another batch of skiers descend from the once truly olive green, now more of a rusty green, chair lift. Two at a time, like brightly coloured soldiers, they slid down the ramp. Some confidently, others with concern on their faces, they all shared a common goal… a safe and fun return to the bottom of the hill. Why they felt they needed to do it on a day like today though, was beyond Casey. She shivered as her scarf loosened, once again allowing the biting wind access to her tender skin. Her mood lightened a little as she noticed that the little red haired girl covered head to knee in a black plastic garbage bag with arms cut out for her head and arms was approaching the ramp on chair 4, which meant that number 22 should be coming along soon. Now if they would all just get off the lift and down the hill safely…. She could almost taste the hot chocolate: thick and creamy it would melt in her mouth and tingle her taste buds. Its heat would warm her body slowly as each sip coursed through her chilled veins. Maybe she could spike it with just a tiny bit of something stronger…Yum. Wrapped up in her chocolate fantasies, she almost missed the little girl slide out of control at the bottom of the ramp. Reacting quickly, Casey pointed her skis in the little girl’s direction and jumped down from her perch. The snow made a wet sloshing noise as her skis made contact, and stuck. “For crying out loud, this is ridiculous.” She shook her head in exasperation and half walked-half skied over to where the girl was teetering uncertainly. Steadying the girl with one hand, Casey steered her out of harm’s way. “You OK?” Casey bent down to the girl’s level and peered into her face. Sometimes kids didn’t always tell you if they hurt, but they couldn't disguise the pain in their expressions. From the look of her she seemed to be fine. Thankfully. What kind of parent would bring their child out on a day like this anyway? “I’m good. Thanks.” The girl confirmed. She was a bit older than she first appeared, probably closer to a teenager than a child. “Well, just be careful heading down,” Casey warned. “The runs are turning into sticky messes with all the rain.” She grimaced at the thought of the potential accidents these conditions could cause. “This lift is closed for the day so keep heading to the bottom. The lower lift should be open until normal closing time.” “Sure. See ya.” The girl skied away with all the energy of the very young. Exuberant and unafraid she bounced through the top of the mogul field, her style exhibiting more enthusiasm than ability, but even the horrible conditions didn’t seem to faze her. Casey shook her head and trudged back up to her perch by the lift hut. It was a wonder more of the kids didn’t end up as accident victims, so many of them were such daredevils, taking risks, fearing nothing. Oh sure, they saw a few of them through the infirmary over the course of the day, but by the next morning they were right back at it again. Their overly cautious parents, on the other hand, weren’t always so lucky. Turning awkwardly, Casey jumped up, propped the ends of her skis in the snow and wiggled back onto her perch once again. Out of the corner of her eye she noticed the number on the chair just swinging past the lift station and brightened. “Only eleven more chairs to go,” she cheered, “then, chocolate.” Casey sighed happily, then scowled and shivered as another raindrop found its way into her collar. No more than ten minutes later the last skier finally descended the ramp. Once again leaving the relative comfort of her perch, Casey skied over to the woman as she prepared for her descent and gave her the same warning she had given everyone else in the last few minutes. “Hi, my name’s Casey. I’m a member of the volunteer ski patrol. This lift is closing for the evening so when you get to the bottom of the run please turn right and head directly to the bottom instead of towards the chair again. Otherwise you will have to hike back up to where the other trail branches off, and that would be a real pain.” She smiled to show she sympathized with the woman if she really had wanted to continue to ski up here. And from many years of practice used her expression to convey the sense that she was just doing her job. Thankfully the woman didn’t take offence the way some of the younger skiers did. She just smiled her thanks and slid, somewhat uncertainly, down the intermediate slope. Casey turned back to the hut. “Time to clean up!” She yelled up to Gerry, still snug in his warm shack. One long arm sporting a thumb’s up sign was thrust out the doorway and then quickly returned to the warmth of the hut. Figures. On days like this she questioned her sanity. The paid hill employees sat in the warm lift huts, while she volunteered to sit in the freezing rain in exchange for some free skiing. She must have a screw loose. Sighing, Casey removed her skis, propped them against a snow bank and pulled a clean garbage bag from her pocket. With a feeling of disgust and resignation, she started cleaning up what remained from the day’s skiers. Candy wrappers and cigarette butts lay scattered around like dry leaves. Apple cores dotted the snow banks. She shook her head sadly. Stowing her now full bag of refuse carefully into the bin provided, she sat down on a snow bank to wait for the members of her team to arrive to help close the runs. Casey could just make out the bright yellow and blue of her fellow patrollers as they rode the lift through the fog when her radio crackled to life, breaking the eerie silence of the almost abandoned hill. “Snowcap Base, Victor Mark. Come in Base.” Her fellow volunteer patroller Mark Smith called to the base radio “Go for Base,” the disembodied voice of Base replied. ‘Base’s’ identity tended to be a mystery to the volunteer patrollers who didn’t always interact with all of the paid staff, other than female, professional and young it was hard to tell through the static exactly who it was. But whoever it was did a great job and almost seemed to speak code as a second language. Even with patrolling on a volunteer basis for the last 6 years, she still occasionally had to check her code card. Casey shook her head, hardly able to believe that she’d been patrolling that long. She had turned 22 the year she joined. The same year she had arrived in Vancouver to find her fortune. Not that volunteering contributed at all towards finding that fortune, but the free skiing was usually worth it. Not so much on days like this, but there had been some phenomenal days earlier in the winter that almost made up for days like today. Casey shivered again and pulled her fleece ski hat farther down over her forehead. Almost. As she listened she realized that the broadcast was about a possible accident, viewed and thankfully reported, by a passing skier on the hill directly below her. She unclipped the mouthpiece of her radio from where it was attached to the inside of her jacket and advised ‘Base’ that she would handle it. She glanced up at the hut and, with a wave, acknowledged Roberta’s hand signals letting her know that she’d heard the broadcast too. Roberta opened the door and made her way out onto the ramp. “Caught that?” Casey asked Roberta. “It sounds like the guy caught a glimpse of something in the woods, but didn’t really see what it was. If we’re lucky it’s just some debris, or a lost glove, but just in case….” Roberta nodded, “I’ll hang out here until you have a chance to check it out. I’ll have the toboggan ready on standby.” “Thanks.” She moved quickly, stepping back into her skis, and pulling the goggles dangling around her neck back into position up over her eyes, pushed off down the hill. Water skis would probably have been easier to use, she frowned as she hydroplaned across the wet, icy slope, thankful for the newly sharpened edges that gripped the icy portions of the trail. Her skis made a wet sucking noise as she lifted one, then the other, out of deep, wet ruts as she tried desperately to find a safe trail through the half frozen slush. For a moment, as she flew along, she felt like the only person on the mountain. All noises, except the occasional clang of the lift as the shut down procedure commenced, were muffled under the fog’s heavy cloak. This feeling of exhilaration, available to her practically whenever she wanted it, really was what made all the work of patrolling worth it. It was a feeling that could only be beat by the satisfaction she felt when she was actually able to help someone in trouble. Casey slowed her descent as she rounded a sharp corner and the rain nearly blinded her. Only her fog free goggles saved her from becoming the next casualty. Without them she would never have been able to identify all the dips and bumps in the trail through the pouring rain. But even the most expensive goggles on the planet would useless as a means to avoid all of the sticks and rocks visible through the remaining snow. “Oh, shi…shkabob….” She swore softly as her edge caught one of the exposed rocks and she wobbled for a moment before catching her balance and continuing on. Rounding another corner Casey noticed the huge path of destruction cut across the trail. From there the broken boughs, fallen pine and fir needles, not to mention the gouges someone’s obviously out of control edges had made as he leapt over a high snow bank, made it easy to locate the exact position of the accident victim. As she skied closer she heard a low moan. Definitely not just someone’s lost mitten. Damn. Thank goodness he was conscious. She let out the breath she had barely realized she had been holding. In this weather, a tree well could swallow up an unsuspecting skier quickly, and smother them almost as fast. “So much for my hot chocolate…” she allowed herself to joke quietly as her worst fears were allayed. She came to a stop just above the accident site but still on the trail, and surveyed the scene. She was close enough to see the man’s face, visible between the snowdrifts, and was momentarily stunned. “Oh man. Him!” She gasped in surprise. Roberta’s ‘purty’ man in black had been hard to forget since he had flown off the ski lift so effortlessly, which in itself hadn’t been unusual, but he had taken the time to walk back towards the lift when he realized that one of the small children in the seats behind him had lost her hat. It had been such a … nice thing to do. And when he had watched the same little girl with so much concern on his otherwise strong, roguishly handsome face as she and an older girl had skied down the beginner trail, Casey had been transfixed. She wouldn’t admit it in a million years to Roberta, but she hadn’t been able to get him out of her thoughts. The expression on his face, and his very demeanour had seemed such a contradiction. She still wondered if there was some relationship between him and the child. He hadn’t acted like a father, not concerned enough, but uncle? Maybe. Or an older brother or a family friend? Or maybe some serious wishful thinking? When he had turned, tall and proud and sexy in his all-black ski suit she couldn’t help but be femininely impressed. The stretch fabric of his ski pants had faithfully followed every muscle and sinew in his lean body and showed off his strong, powerfully built thighs as he bent his knees in preparation for his descent. And then he had leaped so expertly off the edge of the double black diamond run. She hadn’t been able to look away. It wasn’t often you saw expertise like that, certainly not on this little family mountain. His every move had been natural, effortless, fluid. The last thing Casey had expected was for him to end up a casualty of the fog. It just went to show that no one was impervious to conditions like these. Casey removed her skis and crossed them together at the top of the accident site. As she approached her patient, she radioed in her location and a request for transport. He definitely wasn’t going to be getting out of this under his own steam. With a quick “over” to base, she walked closer. His right leg was bent at an odd angle and he held his arm across his chest. His eyes were closed but he appeared to be breathing normally. He lay too close to a large fir tree for Casey’s liking; a collision with any immobile object often meant some sort of internal injuries. Position of injured, any further dangers to myself or my patient, any blood in the snow…Casey began going over in her head approach protocol for an accident and stepped up to the man lying on the ground. He groaned and opened his eyes. For the tiniest moment Casey allowed herself to be distracted from her duties. The color of his eyes was the most startling blue she had ever seen. Now she understood what those sappy romance novels she was always sneaking off the bookstore shelves meant when they talked about drowning in a gaze or compared eye color to looking into a cool mountain lake. Even clouded as they were with pain this man’s eyes were compelling, intelligent, soulful, beautiful… terrifying. She ran out of adjectives to describe them and just stared. The pain in those beautiful eyes finally registered in her dazed brain, and brought her back to earth. She gave herself a mental shake. Now was definitely not the time for a stupid schoolgirl crush. And he certainly didn't look like the type of man who would be even remotely interested in someone who still thought of man/woman relationships in terms of crushes. Not that she was interested. Not at all. “Hi, my name is Casey, I’m a member of the Volunteer Ski Patrol and I’m trained in first aid. Please don’t move until I’ve checked you over.” She recited the introduction automatically, kneeling down beside the wounded man. “Do you remember what happened?” As she had done in many other accident situations, she began information gathering even as she removed her first aid pack, placing it on the ground next to her. She unzipped the main section and replaced her heavy warm ski gloves with a pair of latex gloves. She laid her ski gloves inside the open flap of her pack to keep them dry. There was nothing worse than putting wet gloves back on after she finished examining the patient. Not that they could get much wetter than they were now. “I think a tree hit me” The man moaned. The effort to keep his eyes open seemed too much for his weakened state and he closed them again with a groan. At least he still had a sense of humour. It could mean he wasn’t in as bad a shape as she had initially feared. Or he was delirious and had brain damage. She voted for the former. Casey wiped water out of her eyes and stuffed a stray tendril of dripping hair back under her sodden ski cap. Working on autopilot she continued the introduction that had been drilled into her during the long weeks of annual intensive training. “Please stay still. You could cause yourself more damage if you move around before I’ve had a chance to stabilize your injuries. Can you tell me your name and where you hurt?” Casey was all professionalism now. She wouldn’t, couldn't, afford to be interested in him as anything more than an accident victim, and the sooner she reminded herself of that fact the better. “Andrew Peterson… I think my right leg is broken… and my chest hurts when I breathe.” He didn’t open his eyes but the tension in his face and his rasping voice gave credence to his pain. “I didn’t really hit a tree. I think I just took some really big air where I shouldn’t have.” Even in his pain his voice was low, smooth and sent shivers down Casey’s spine. Pfft, it’s just the cold, she told herself. Voices don’t create shivers. At least they never had before. Not for her anyway. “I’m glad to hear it. You were lucky.” Casey knew that, no matter how severe his injuries were, the weather alone would make this situation a ‘load and go’. The risk of hypothermia was too great to risk doing anything except stabilize him and get him off the mountain and into the warm, dry environment of the patrol hut as fast as possible. So far he wasn’t exhibiting any obvious signs, but the longer he lay on the cold, wet ground the higher his chances became. Grabbing her radio, Casey relayed, in code, a request for an ambulance. Andrew didn’t appear to be one of those people that moaned and groaned as if they were dying and ended up having nothing more than a bruise or two. Even in his current position, he exuded the impression of strength and self- reliance. If he wasn’t moving, there was some real damage. Casey would bet her reputation on it. And just had, by calling for an ambulance so early in her assessment. The adrenaline pumping through her system made it almost possible to ignore her own discomfort as icy water dripped from her soaking hat down her collar and into her eyes. With an “over and out” she signed off and reattached her radio handset to the collar of her jacket. Pulling a reflective blanket out of the pack she carefully unfolded the thin sheet and threw it over the man on the ground to keep in as much of his body heat as possible, then began her primary assessment. “I’m going to check you over now.” She watched him in concern as he winced at the pain each breath caused him. Andrew grunted in acceptance. “Let me know what hurts.” She requested, and received another grunt in response. Casey started her initial inspection. Bending close so she could hear the tempo of his breathing, she put two fingers against the carotid artery in his neck. Airway, breathing and circulation seemed fine, although his breathing was a little raspy and his skin seemed cool, there didn’t seem to be anything life threatening. She allowed for possible neck or back injuries by once again cautioning him to stay still and placed her ski gloves on either side of his head as a reminder, in case he was tempted to move. A hard collar would have to wait until the toboggan arrived. She reached under the blanket and loosened his ski jacket to inspect his chest. Running her hands over the soft fleece of his thermal shirt, she felt his heat radiate through the thin latex gloves and, for just a moment, allowed herself to enjoy the feel of her hands tracing the smooth muscles of his chest and stomach. Cut didn’t even begin to describe him. Lean, warm, all male. He oozed testosterone and she wasn’t immune. Hell, any woman would have to be dead to be immune to this man. Her breathing changed tempo, keeping time with her racing heart. He was warm and firm and hard. She felt her face flame hotter with embarrassment as practically of their own volition her hands smoothed further over his shoulders and down the muscles of his biceps. He’s a wounded man! She scolded herself. He’s just a man, a man in pain. But those muscles! His broad shoulders fairly rippled with sinewy strength and his chest, even through his shirt, was nothing short of a thing of beauty. His grunt when she inspected his ribs helped to pull her back to reality. She examined the wounded area more closely, her attention once more on the first aid she was trained to perform. From the feel of it he probably had at least one broken rib. Then she reached his stomach and hips. She felt like she was taking liberties, copping a feel on an unsuspecting accident victim. It was not a normal feeling for a first aider and made her feel a bit uncomfortable and ashamed, but holy manoly, she was a woman, and he was not just your typical desk jockey! He was long and lean and solidly sculpted. Her hands could detect no extraneous flesh anywhere. She did a quick survey of his equally muscular legs and allowed herself a small smile. Sometimes she really loved her job. Andrew’s quickly indrawn breath when she reached his awkwardly bent right knee stopped her. Carefully, so as not to cause him any further pain, she cleared the snow from his booted foot and, slowly opening the zipper that ran the length of the leg of his ski pants, examined the wounded area. She didn't try to unbend it at this point. She'd need help to do that without doing any more damage. The knee looked slightly swollen through his long johns. "Does that hurt?" She asked as she pressed lightly. Andrew winced and nodded. "Yeah. It hurts." "On a scale of one to ten, how's it stack up?" "Right now I'd give it a six." His voice was low, his words slurred slightly. "But I'm pretty sure it'll jump a point or two once it thaws out." "You're probably right," She had to agree. Further inspection ruled out any sign of broken bones or torn flesh. "It's probably sprained, but it's hard to tell for sure. We'll know better when we get you down to the infirmary for a full assessment." She zipped his ski pants closed again and adjusted the position of the blanket, then, reaching under him as far as she could reach; she ran her hands over his back. No pain reaction to her touch. That was good. "How's it look, Doc?" Andrew asked as he watched her through half closed eyes. "You're going to be fine." Casey assured him. "The toboggan should be here any minute and we'll get you loaded and down to the warmth of the first aid hut before you know it." "Sounds good to me." He smiled and closed his eyes again. Rising to a semi-crouched position, Casey dropped her chin to her chest and breathed deeply. She unzipped her jacket halfway and tucked her frozen hands under her armpits, warming them against her overheated body, and examined her patient quizzically. What was it about him that had her blushing like a schoolgirl? With a sigh over her ridiculous crush, Casey shook her head, pulled a pen and pad of paper out of her pack and continued her assessment and recording of vital information automatically. Andrew's shivering intensified, the spasms now racking his frame hard enough to cause him obvious pain. Casey’s concern mounted as the minutes ticked by with no sign of her requested transport. “Come on dammit, where are you?” She gazed upwards towards the summit of the trail, hoping to spot the familiar bright orange sled being pulled by Roberta, or one of her fellow patrollers. If they didn’t get her soon… At least her patient was still shivering. Once he stopped she’d really have something to worry about. His other injuries, though, didn’t appear on the surface to be as critical as she had feared. The leg wasn’t broken, probably just a sprained knee, and he had one or two cracked ribs. But the pain of his ribs could be masking other internal injuries. She was just beginning her secondary assessment and had completed a series of tests to rule out any spinal injury when the toboggan arrived. “What have we got?” Roberta called out as she positioned the toboggan across the grade of the hill, next to the patient, and secured it with her skis. “Holy cow, it’s him!” She called out, her voice as shocked as Casey’s thoughts had been when she’d first seen who it was. “His name’s Andrew Peterson, mid thirties, he’s got a bum knee and possibly some broken ribs. Although there’s no indication of a punctured lung, I can’t tell what other internal damage he may have suffered. He seems a bit disoriented, but is pretty sure he didn’t hit a tree. From the look of the area I would say he didn’t.” Casey approached her friend and helped to unload the supplies from the toboggan. “Our primary concern here of course is the weather. He’s wet and cold and risks becoming hypothermic. I’ve done a full test of range of motion and sensitivity to touch. There’s no indication of spinal injury, but he’s hurting. A lot.” “Understood.” Roberta thankfully held her questions and further comments to herself. Casey was sure she had lots, but they didn’t have time to chat. He needed to get moved, and soon. Roberta removed the backboard from the toboggan and was positioning it next to Andrew to ease the transfer. Working quickly, and with Roberta's help, Casey rolled Andrew to one side to create some space to straighten his right leg. She cringed at the sound of his low moan as she slowly eased the limb into a more natural shape, and stabilized the wounded knee with a blanket and wooden splint from the toboggan. Casey wrapped a crepe bandage around his chest as well as she could in an attempt to maintain pressure on his broken rib to help ease some of his discomfort. Just to be safe, they attached the hard collar. “OK, ready to move him onto the backboard?” She asked. Roberta positioned herself at Andrew’s feet. “Ready.” “On my count. One, two, three!” Casey grunted with exertion as they rolled Andrew’s body up onto his good side and then positioned the board under him. Andrew remained stoically silent although Casey knew the movement must have caused him considerable pain. Once he was settled comfortably Roberta left to search the site for the patient’s skis. “Andrew?” Casey asked softly Andrew opened his eyes and gazed at her foggily. “Hmm?” “I just wanted to let you know that if the pain in your ribs gets any worse it might help to place a hand over the site and apply more pressure.” Her concerned gaze ran over him as she fastened the straps that would hold him onto the board. “If you feel any worse just yell and we’ll stop immediately. If there’s a position you think would be more comfortable, we can rearrange you in the sled, too.” “Sure.” His single word answer was softly spoken. He closed his eyes and shivered. “Ready to load, Roberta.” Casey called her fellow patroller back over to help. Ever so carefully, the two women transferred Andrew and his ski gear into the bright orange sled. Casey’s gaze darkened in distress as more uncontrollable shivers racked Andrew’s lithe frame. Her gaze met Roberta's and they shared a look of concern that indicated better than words the seriousness of the situation. Roberta positioned herself in front of the toboggan between the handles. Casey carefully removed the skis holding the sled in position and laid them in the snow so that Roberta could step into them without having to compromise her control. Returning to the back of the toboggan, Casey checked on Andrew, then adjusted the tarp covering him and grabbed the tail rope as she stepped into her own skis. “We’ll leave the rest of the splints where they are. I’ll radio the team doing sweep to pick them up as they close the run.” At Roberta’s grunt of assent: “Whenever you’re ready Roberta, lead the way.” Cautiously, they skied the man down the mountain to the patrol hut. Roberta steered the toboggan from between the long metal handles, pushing down on one side or the other depending on the direction of the turn. Casey controlled the long length of rope attached to the tail. A backup safety device, it was used in the event that they would need the added tension to keep from going too fast when they descended down a particularly steep grade. She could also help add a bit of relief by skiing past quickly and using the rope as leverage if the going got too slow. The latter was more likely in these conditions when the snow, as they hit the lower altitudes, was bound to be even heavier. It didn’t help that they had to be extra careful on the lower slopes so covered with patrons trying to get a last run in before the end of the day. The skiers, with their garbage bags over their suits for protection, looked like frantic little ants trying to prepare their hill against a flood. “Watch where you’re going!” Casey yelled in frustration, as for the third time in as many minutes, they were slowed by an out of control snowboarder cutting them off. It took longer than normal for their rescue convoy to reach the bottom but, finally, they made it. The dim lights of the patrol hut shining in the murky light of the waning sun had never looked more appealing. Andrew had been quiet on the way down. Casey knew he must be cold and sore and was relieved that he was content to lie there quietly. He would need all the strength he had left just to get his core warm again. Casey and Roberta skated around the last corner and slid to a stop in front of the infirmary. Already the rain had washed away much of the snow that usually covered the route to the entrance and their skis stuck a bit in the muddy track. The head patroller met them at the door. Casey kicked out of her skis letting them lie where they fell and turned immediately to help him lift Andrew’s weak body into the patrol hut. Andrew moaned and opened his eyes, “Angela?” He croaked, a look of panic in his eyes. “Janie? Paula?” His gaze focused on Rich, the head patroller, as he bent closer to hear the weakly uttered words. “I need to ffffind them!” CHAPTER THREE The toboggan was secured by the doorway of the infirmary and the backboard containing Andrew was transferred to a makeshift gurney that allowed patients to be moved into the first aid room with minimal movement. It was something they had built themselves one slow Sunday a few years ago, and it went a long way toward limiting the jarring to potentially broken bones. Casey was pushing the wheeled trolley with help from the head patroller, Richard Emory, but stopped quickly as Andrew tried to sit up, nearly overbalancing the cart. “I have to fffind them.” Andrew repeated hoarsely through numb lips. She felt his pain as he winced, and fell back onto the backboard. “It’s OK…easy now…” Rich’s voice was low and soothing. Casey watched as he worked his magic and, with few words, calmed their patient. Who was Angela? A wife? Were Janie and Paula his children? For a moment Casey felt oddly deflated. Of course he would be married. Someone as good-looking as he was had to be. “My nnnieces…. Somewhere on the hill…. supposed to be lllooking after them…” his voice trailed away weakly as his shivering became too strong to allow easy speech. “They’re still out there sssomewhere. I can’t believe I ffforgot about them until nnnow.” His struggle to speak through the cold and shivering tore at Casey’s heartstrings. “PPPaula and Janie. CCCan someone find them… let them know what happened … where I am?” Another shiver racked his body. “Of course…” Casey agreed quickly. “Can you tell us what they look like, or what they’re wearing?” “Young, blond….Janie’s twelve. Yellow ski sssuit, blue bbboots, blue hat……Paula…onnnnly eight, pink ski pppants, Barbie jjjacket and hat.” Rich’s voice summoned Roberta from where she was cleaning up the toboggan supplies in preparation for the return trip up the mountain. “Robbie, when you finish repacking the supplies, head on over to the lodge and look for the girls, on your way there let Base know what we’re looking for so they can alert the other patrollers.” He instructed. “Aye, aye, Sir!” She saluted smartly and smiled. Rich just shook his head. With a sigh of relief that signified better than any words his appreciation that the girls would be located, Andrew shut his eyes and allowed himself to be wheeled over to the nearest bed. Casey and Rich quickly transferred the shivering man to the hard cot. Casey tucked a warm woolen blanket around Andrew’s shoulders. Her hands lingered a little too long, and she snatched them away. She felt the heat of a blush warming her cheeks. Thankfully Rich had been busy returning the gurney to the front doorway and hadn’t seen her embarrassing reaction. He was approaching now, and Casey pulled herself together and filled her mentor and friend in on what she had found in her examination. She handed Rich her notes. Satisfied her patient was in goods hands; she headed towards the locker room to remove her wet ski gear. “Casey!” Casey glanced at Rich inquiringly. “When you’re ready you can stay with the patient. We’re swamped today.” He shook his head, his forehead wrinkling in a scowl. “This weather is causing more accidents than we can handle. You know his history; you can do the paperwork and get him transported.” Then as if she was no longer there, Rich turned back to the man on the bed and began to strip off his wet clothing. Casey didn’t take offence at his quick dismissal, she knew his patients came first and speed was of the essence if they were to prevent hypothermia. It was also necessary to get a better view of his wounds. Roberta was halfway out the door when she stopped and turned towards Casey. She winked. “Even looking like a drowned rat, he’s a pretty dishy specimen.” She waggled her eyebrows archly. “You lucky girl, make sure you do a thorough inspection.” She laughed at the expression on Casey's face, and was still laughing as she walked through the door and headed towards the lodge. Casey glared at her retreating back, turned and entered the patroller locker room, shaking her head at her friend’s teasing. She took a deep breath. This was one patient she would have handed off to someone else in a heartbeat. Was it the weather, the fog that closed around them like a glove that caused the feeling of intimacy, that indefinable connection? She could only hope for her sanity that it was all a hallucination caused by some unknown electric reaction within the storm. Removing her wet jacket and ski pants, she was pleased to note that her leggings and turtleneck sweater had remained mostly dry. She stowed her gear carefully in the drying locker, gave her short coppery curls a quick drying with a handy towel, and with her most professional demeanour firmly in place, strode back into the infirmary. And stopped dead in her tracks. Rich had managed to remove Andrew’s wet clothing and was starting to tape his cracked rib. Lying there half naked, barely covered with a couple of the scratchy standard issue wool blankets, Andrew looked even more handsome than she had thought up on the hill. His hair was cropped in a short professional style, softened by what her Mom used to call a cowlick that curled at his temple. A half-day’s worth of beard growth covered his jaw like pale sandpaper. He looked rugged and very, very masculine. Casey contemplated turning tail and running away as fast as her legs could take her, but rejected that course of action almost immediately. She wasn't a child. He was only a patient. He certainly couldn't hurt her. And just because she didn't know how to deal with a natural physical reaction to a good looking man, it shouldn't preclude her from doing her job. Should it? Running away was still tempting. She took a deep breath to get herself under control. Smoothing her turquoise turtleneck over her flat stomach nervously, she gave herself a mental shake and proceeded farther into the room. “How does he look Rich?” She was relieved that her voice sounded calm, with just the right hint of concern. Rich flashed her a quick glance. Damn, maybe not as calm as she had hoped. Thankfully Rich just answered her question. “Not great, your assessment was correct.” Rich turned back to the patient. “He has a twisted knee, at least one broken rib and is borderline hypothermic. There’s no indication of internal injuries but he needs to see a doctor to rule out anything for sure. The ambulance is on its way. Good call, requesting it.” He turned back to the patient to finish taping his cracked ribs, and then covered him to the chin with the heavy wool blankets. “I’ve removed his wet clothes and threw them in the dryer; they should be dry by the time the ambulance arrives. He’s got warm pack under his armpits and between his legs, but he’s still shivering.” Rich stood up and prepared to leave. “I’ve got other patients to see to and we have a broken femur on its way in any moment. You can take care of this can’t you?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “He still needs his leg stabilized for transport and you’ll have to watch his temperature.” Rich’s tone was off-handed as he strode towards the infirmary door. Casey felt a small bubble of pride. She knew Rich had no qualms over leaving her in charge. She was one of the best volunteers as far as her first aid was concerned, and had proven it three years running by winning the Division first aid competition. As she stared at his departing back, her pride turned to concern. And then the concern turned to desperation. The leg she could handle, and she knew how important it was to warm the patient up. But if his temperature didn’t rise with the use of the heat packs alone she knew that without any other means to heat him quickly they were limited to using body heat. And that meant she would have to take off most of her clothing and get in next to him. She suddenly felt as if she was standing in a spotlight with everyone staring at her, watching her control slowly slip away, as ephemeral as the fog outside. Boy, it got hot in here fast; she laughed at herself to help control her thoughts. Be professional, he needs your help, and if that’s what you need to do, you’ll do it. “Control… Think cold lake, ice cubes, ugly animals….” Taking a deep breath, she turned to check on her patient. “Do you always talk to yourself?” Andrew opened his eyes and smiled at the sexy female patroller leaning over his bed. “I’ve heard it’s a sign of senility.” He joked weakly. He felt cold and miserable and sore with an extremely large dose of stupid thrown in. How the heck had he managed to end up in here? He couldn’t believe a couple of pre-teens had managed to out-ski him. Where were the girls? His sister was going to kill him. “Has anyone managed to track down my nieces?” He hitched himself up higher on the bed, wincing at the pain in his rib as he did. He felt as weak as a baby, and it wasn’t a feeling he was used to, or appreciated. “You shouldn’t be moving,” The woman chastised him and pulled the blankets farther up around his chilled body. “Roberta is on her way to find them. And we have every other patroller keeping an eye out. It’s not that big of a hill, they'll be here soon." He knew she was only trying to relieve his anxiety, and he appreciated the effort. She'd even smiled slightly at his attempt at a joke. He continued to watch her steadily. Cute, he thought as she fluttered around him, fixing blankets and checking vitals. Heat flashed through his body as she checked the temperature of the skin on his forehead with her wrist. His reaction to her touch surprised him. His curiosity grew. She grabbed a thermometer from the table next to the bed and had it stuck in his mouth and under his tongue before he even realized what she was doing. “Your skin temperature feels more normal. You’ve had a very close brush with hypothermia. That’s why you’re feeling so weak. All the blood in your extremities was beginning to rush to your vital organs to keep them warm. Once you started to warm up the blood flow resumed its normal course again. You should start feeling stronger in a few minutes as the rest of your body warms up.” She was babbling, she knew it, but couldn't seem to control it. He pulled the thermometer out of his mouth to ask: “How did you manage to get that all out without taking a breath?” He teased, and was rewarded with an annoyed glare as she took the thermometer and stuck it back in his mouth. She stared at her watch for a very long minute with a serious look on her face, and then pulled the thermometer out of his mouth. She examined the reading. "Your temperature is normal, that's a good sign. How are you feeling?” He didn't miss the fact that she'd ignored his facetious question, and watched her closely as she turned away to fuss with the hot packs. “I feel cold and stupid and sore, but a bit stronger now that my body seems to have thawed out a bit. You said my leg isn't broken?” Andrew shifted awkwardly and reached down carefully to rub his sore leg. “No, it looks like you just have a badly sprained knee and a lot of bruising. A doctor will be able to give you a better idea of what the problem is. You probably also have a broken rib, which could mean internal injuries, although from your color and the speed you seem to be recovering it’s probably unlikely. But we can’t completely rule them out here. You’ll have to see your doctor for that.” “Are you the one helped me up there on the hill?” At her nod of acquiescence: “I wasn’t sure if you were a woman or not, those shapeless outfits and packs make it hard to tell,” He said almost to himself, “…but you seem to be a very pretty one, now that I can see you properly.” He couldn’t stop his admiring glance from roaming over the length of her, taking in the mop of startling copper curls that lightly framed her face as they dried; the haunting uncertainty in her incredible emerald eyes; the way she was chewing so endearingly on her full lower lip, so beautifully bare of any make-up. His gaze traveled down farther noting, with masculine appreciation, the petite proportions, narrow waist and how her navy blue leggings fit so snugly around her slim hips and femininely muscular thighs. Maybe she wasn’t quite as glamorous as he was used to but she was definitely adorable, and really quite sexy. His gaze once again grazed her face, noting with amusement that her complexion had become an attractive shade of pink. And wondered at the flash of something that resembled fear he saw flit across her expression and the tension in her compact body. “Pardon me?” Casey was totally mortified. Was he making a pass at her? It was one thing to find him attractive when he was practically unconscious, but this wide-awake and virile man lounging in front of her with hardly any clothes on was another thing completely. “What’s your name, little angel of mercy?” The gravelly voice sent shivers up her spine. “Casey Adams.” She managed to croak out her name, forgetting in her nervousness that it was unwise to reveal last names to unknown patients. In her state of heightened awareness, she could feel the heat of his gaze as it roamed over her body. She could feel every fiber of her damp clothing rub against her overheating skin. Even her sense of smell was heightened and her nostrils quivered as the smell the infirmary, pungent with the aromas of sweat and antiseptic, invaded her every pore. The thought that she should be insulted at his blatant appraisal had barely even crossed her mind. Nervously she rubbed her hands down her thighs, and she felt her face burn again as his gaze followed the path her hands took. She quickly pulled them away from her legs and crossed her arms over her waist. Damn her pale skin. “Well, Casey Adams, it’s nice to meet you, and thank you for helping me.” He held out his hand and watched her as if he could see inside her head to the turmoil and longing that slowly simmered, waiting for something she couldn’t define. Casey stared at the large masculine hand for what seemed to be an eternity, but in reality wasn’t even long enough for Andrew to notice her hesitation. Thankfully. With a small indrawn breath she placed her hand in his. Her fingers were immediately enveloped in the strongest, gentlest grip she had ever felt. It sent a bolt of electricity shooting through her arm, making what she felt earlier a spark in comparison. Her shocked gaze locked with his assessing one. Did he feel it too? She pulled her arm back quickly, hugging it next to her body again protectively. “It’s no problem, it’s my job.” Was that her voice? “Get a grip Casey.” She berated herself under her breath as she turned away. “Talking to yourself again?” He laughed at her softly, then winced as the movement of his chest aggravated his broken rib. Casey shot him a reproachful look and, ignoring his question, turned away to grab a cardboard splint. They almost never got the wooden ones back from the ambulance attendants and had recently started the practice of using cardboard ones. The cardboard worked just as well for stabilization, but it wasn’t so much of a problem if they didn’t get returned. And concentrating on the splint helped to keep her mind off her patient. Putting on her most professional face she took a deep breath and turned back towards the man on the bed. Working quickly, and with a minimum of personal contact, she stabilized his knee for transport to the hospital. She finished, grabbed a clipboard and incident report from a nearby table and, regarding him coolly, perched herself on the edge of a nearby folding chair. She was almost able to ignore the appraising look he pinned on her the entire time. Almost. “I just need some information from you for our records.” She settled herself more comfortably in the hard metal chair. “An ambulance is on its way to transport you to the hospital. We feel its best due to the nature of your injuries." “Probably a good thing, I definitely won't be able to drive myself and my sister has a small car and a baby; she’ll need all the space just for the kids. There won’t be anyplace for me to stretch this out.” He pointed to his splinted knee. “Great. I’ll just need someone’s name and address as a contact person, your sister? A wife?” Casey hoped her voice didn’t sound as feeble as she felt. The blanket fell away to reveal rippling muscles as he attempted to make himself more comfortable against the head of the bed. Casey stared. She couldn’t help it. It was all she could do to keep herself from pouncing, ripping the blanket away and burying herself in his warm nakedness. His body was beautiful… if a man’s body can be described that way. He resembled a Pagan God, or at least the way she thought a Pagan God would look: Masculine, strong, completely in control even in his pain. The light dusting of hair on his chest just begged for fingers to be raked through it. Casey tore her eyes away from the play of muscles in his taught stomach, and found him watching her, a speculative look on his face. Her pulse quickened. She felt like a rabbit caught under the eagle eye of some circling bird of prey, but surprisingly, this time it wasn’t fear she was feeling. Not at all. Interminable moments later, Andrew lowered his lashes. He answered her question so calmly she was able to convince herself that he hadn’t been able to read the lust on her face, in her eyes…oozing from every pore. “I’m not married. You can call my sister. Her phone number and address are in the booklet in the inner pocket of my jacket. She’ll need to come and get the girls. Any sign of them yet?” He pulled the wool blankets up under his chin. Casey felt equal parts relief and disappointment. “I’ll check for you.” Casey let out a breath she hadn’t even realized she was holding and practically ran over to the in-house phone. A quick call to the main office and she had her information. With a smile she walked back to Andrew. “They’ve been found, they’ll be here any minute” At Andrew’s smile of thanks: “Now, about those questions….” Casey was just finishing up the incident report when the door burst open and a small blond whirlwind ran into the room. The girl was crying inconsolably. About to launch herself on her uncle, she was caught from behind. “Whoa, little girl, your uncle is a little sore right now, you’ll have to be careful around him for a while.” Roberta cautioned. An older girl…Janie probably, Casey surmised remembering Andrew’s description from earlier… entered the room just behind Roberta. That would mean the little whirlwind must be Paula. “OK,” Paula promised rubbing the sleeve of her hot pink ski-suit across her dripping nose. “I’ll be careful.” Casey chuckled quietly at the solemn gaze Paula turned on Roberta. Cautiously letting go of the girl, Roberta allowed her to walk over to her uncle’s bed. Janie followed at a more dignified pace. The dampness on her cheek and over bright sparkle to her eyes were the only indications of the concern she felt when her uncle had failed to show up at their designated meeting place. “Found them, Boss.” Roberta smiled at Rich as he entered the busy room to see what the commotion was all about. “They were waiting at the lodge for their uncle to come down. Just in time too. They were about to head back up the hill to look for him.” Roberta shook her blond, pony- tailed head; the look on her face reflected her dismay at the plan that could have resulted in horrible consequences. Casey turned back to her paperwork and busied herself cleaning up the room. But her mind kept straying to the complicated man behind her. Andrew was so gentle with the girls, so sweet and caring and kind and incredibly patient, just listening to them was almost enough to bring tears to her eyes. A man that gorgeous who was single, and good with children? And he was definitely into women, if his appreciative banter earlier was anything to go by. So how is it he didn't have a wife, or girlfriend? She moved away from the family reunion and, pulling a chair up to the chipped melamine table that doubled as a break room table and work station, started repacking some toboggan packs that would need to be sent up the hill later. So what was wrong with him? Was he like Scott… a cheating, violent, Lothario? Or was there some other reason that had kept him from committing to one woman? His job maybe? Maybe he’d just never found the right woman? Or maybe he’d been hurt at some point in his life and was now afraid to commit. Although that didn’t fit at all with the overconfident man she sensed him to be. Maybe he was just a jerk and a womanizer…. or was just a normal single guy quite happy just being able to do his own thing with whoever happened to pique his interest and just didn't want to be tied down. Oh, for God's sake, Casey berated herself for her train of thought. What's it to me anyway? A warm breath tickled her ear. Casey whipped her head around, her lips within inches of Andrews laughing mouth. He was so close she could almost kiss him. She felt her heart switch into overdrive. Jerk womanizers could still be damn sexy. He was dressed again in his now dry ski gear and was propped up on a stretcher held between two burly ambulance attendants. They were all grinning down at her as she stared, transfixed by Andrew’s laughing blue eyes. “Bye little angel of mercy, thanks for all your help.” His voice was warm, appreciative, and oh so sexy. Oh, and did she happen to mention, sexy? It was all she could do to nod, afraid if she tried to respond her words would come out as little more than a high pitched squeak. She recovered to see Andrew being helped out to the waiting ambulance, and the girls skipping off to meet their mother. Surprised at how tense she had been, Casey’s muscles uncoiled and she collapsed against the back of her chair. She stared at the ceiling. The realization that she had been so engrossed in her thoughts that she had missed the ambulance’s arrival was unsettling. Andrew had somehow managed to fill her senses to the exclusion of everything else. Casey couldn’t remember anyone ever having such a profound effect on her before. Not that it mattered. He was gone and that was the end of it, she’d never see him again. And didn't want to anyway. He was nothing to her, just another patient. Besides he was just another jerk womanizer. It was a good thing he was gone. Two patrollers ran into the room, interrupting her reverie. More accidents. It was going to be a busy evening. Casey ran into the locker room, put on her still wet ski suit and boots, and grabbed her skis from the rack; at least keeping busy would stop her from thinking about Andrew and his sexy voice, not to mention his body. She closed her eyes briefly as if in prayer and rubbed the back of her tired neck, he was out of her league anyway. And probably a jerk womanizer. With that thought firmly planted in her head, she walked out the door towards the lift. Plans for a break and the once craved hot chocolate completely forgotten. CHAPTER FOUR Beep, Beep, Beep, Slam! The sound of Casey’s hand hitting her snooze button reverberated through her one bedroom apartment. She groaned deep in her throat, removed the pillow from over her head and sat up. Or tried to. The blankets she had wrapped herself in during the night were still tightly wound around her legs, making what should have been a simple procedure an exercise in frustration. Finally giving up with a huge yawn, she admitted defeat and collapsed once more against the headboard of her antique sleigh bed. Another yawn threatened as she ran her fingers through her tousled curls. A quick glance at her clock radio galvanized her into action better than any bucket of cold water. “Oh, No!! No, no, no, no! Crap. I’m going to be late!” She pushed Tigger, her still sleeping tabby, off the edge of the bed and kicked free of her confining bedclothes. “How could you let me sleep so late?” She yelled at the confused feline as she jumped out of bed, grabbed her robe and rushed towards the shower. One nice thing about having a pet: you always had a scapegoat to blame when the time required it. The cat blinked and, giving her a cool glare, began washing his face. “Too bad cats can’t be trained like dogs.” Casey was still complaining as she adjusted the shower and stepped into the stinging spray. “OW! Hot! Hot! Hot!” She jumped back out of the way and tentatively reached around the steaming water to re-adjust the taps. “Gawd, will nothing go right today?” Adjusting the temperature to a comfortable level, she quickly lathered up. As she scrubbed her face, she considered her decision of last night. Yes, she was shy; yes, she was relatively inexperienced for a twenty-eight year old: One serious boyfriend did not a Siren make; and yes, what she was about to do made her knees quake with fear; but the thought also filled her with an incredible amount of anticipation and excitement. She was going to do it. She was going to pursue a relationship with the sexy accident victim from yesterday. Well, she amended silently as she rinsed off and stepped out of the shower, at least see how he was doing and find out if he’s interested enough to go to lunch. Somewhere public, surrounded by lots of other people. That should be safe enough. “He’s single, Tigger.” She called to her cat. Like any normal feline, he ignored her. That didn’t stop Casey from talking to him. “I know because I asked him, well not outright, of course. I suggested he use his wife’s name as a contact person. I know, I know…” She wrapped a dry towel around her hair and answered the question she was sure the cat was thinking. “It wasn’t exactly a secret, what I was trying to do. But how else would I find out? I mean I could have just asked, but that would have been really forward and you know I’m not terribly outgoing.” The cat blinked and wound himself tighter into a ball Giving up the one-way conversation, she continued to dry herself off. She could hardly believe she had been so forward. That had been bold, even for her. Especially for her. But she hadn’t arrived at where she was in life by being a complete shrinking violet. Six years ago she had driven on her own from a small town outside of Ottawa, Ontario to a huge city she knew virtually nothing about, on the farthest western point of the country. She worked as a waitress for two long years until had she saved up enough money to go after her dream. With her small down payment, a medium sized bank loan and a lot of support from her family, she had been able to purchase a second-hand book shop/coffee house. And finally, after endless nights of hard work, her dream was beginning to pay the bills, quite handsomely too. She almost had enough money saved to put a down payment on the beautiful little cottage she had her eye on in Sandy Cove, the little village at the base of Snowcap Mountain. Casey quickly brushed her teeth, threw a comb through her almost dry curls and hurried to find something to wear. She wouldn't think of Scott, not today. Therapy had done wonders in reducing his memory to just that, a memory, but she still had to work at moving outside of that comfort zone, making herself vulnerable again. Some days it was just easier to hide away in her shell. But not today. Today was going to be one of the days she could look back on and say 'see, you can do anything you put your mind to'. And she'd just have to ignore the fact that her palms were sweating. And hope nobody else noticed either. “Damn,” she swore through clenched teeth as the zipper of the dress she chose snagged half way up. Just great, she had almost convinced herself she could do anything today, but she was starting it by not even being able to zip up her own clothing. “Why did I hit the snooze button so many times this morning? Why today of all days?” Her plan had been perfect: get up early, make herself beautiful, stop in at the hospital to pay a visit to Andrew Peterson, hopefully leave with a date and time set for a lunch rendezvous, and get over to her bookstore before she was due to open. It was her usual habit to arrive at the store early to make sure everything was just right: That the place was clean, the coffee was perking and the reading corner was ready for her afternoon story time. Today she would be lucky if she even opened the store on time. “I should have known better.” Casey muttered as she wiggled free of the half zipped dress, turned it back to front and cautiously picked the delicate threads free of the zippers strong teeth. “Mondays after a late patrolling shift never go smoothly.” She only patrolled one day every other weekend, but on crazy days, like yesterday, the early shift was often asked to stay later to help cover any unexpected rush of accident victims. Last night she arrived home sometime after eight o’clock and had found the cash receipts and sales slips from the day’s book sales waiting for her. They’d had to be verified before she went to bed so they would be ready for the morning deposit, their Facebook page had to be scanned for any questions, comments or concerns and updated for the next day's plans, and she had to update the blog she had volunteered to do called a season of skiing at Snowcap. Thank goodness the ski season was almost over. It took way more time than she had expected, but it did attract quite a lot of traffic, that hopefully translated into more visitors to the hill. As a result she hadn’t made it to bed until after midnight. Casey finally managed to free the stubborn zipper and completed dressing. Standing in front of her full-length mirror she smoothed the black and white silk polka-dot dress down over her slim hips. She smiled faintly at herself. “You look Mah-velous.” She did her best impression of…she shook her head confusedly…someone from an old episode of Saturday Night Live maybe? It wasn’t important. A bit of lip-gloss for some shimmer, a last quick comb through her curls and into a pair of low-heeled black leather sling-backs and she was ready. Kicking the heap of sheets out of the way, she headed for the kitchen. “I’ll clean up later.” She promised Tigger over her shoulder as the cat watched her suspiciously from his favourite perch on top of her dressing table. “Well, tomorrow at the latest.” Housework was not one of her favourite chores. She grabbed a light blazer from the hook next to her apartment door. It was still a bit chilly in the morning and she’d probably need the jacket later tonight when the temperature dropped again. The temperature difference between the ski hills and the city always surprised her this time of the year. It was the only place she knew of where you could ski in the morning and sit on the beach in the afternoon. With the weather they were expecting over the next couple of weeks the hill definitely wouldn’t be open much longer. Casey picked up her briefcase, found her keys under a magazine on the hall table, unlocked the deadlock on the front door, and her phone rang. Damn. She considered ignoring it, but instead dropped her briefcase and keys and rushed to answer it. It could be Michael, her assistant, calling about the previous day’s shift at the bookstore; he often called first thing in the morning to update her on any problems that needed immediate attention. “Hello?” She recognized her younger sister’s voice and knew the call wouldn’t be a short one. “Steph, I’ll have to call you back later.” Her sister invariably had some major life-threatening crisis to deal with, and today was just not a good day. “I have to go make a lunch date with an accident victim from last night and if I don’t hurry he’ll have been released from the hospital before I get there.” Casey knew that last statement would drive her sister crazy until Stephanie caught her at the bookstore later. As expected, Stephanie began spouting questions like a reporter. Casey cut her off. “Call me later and I’ll fill you in,” and hung up with her sister still twittering indignantly on the line. Casey glanced at her watch. “Now I really have to rush,” Hurrying out of her apartment, she ran down the three flights of stairs to the parking garage. Why use an elevator when the stairs were such a great way to get a free workout? It was broken again anyway, so she really didn’t have much of a choice. Hopping into her battered Escort Wagon, she rumbled off towards the North Vancouver General Hospital only a few miles from her apartment in Lynn Valley. At least the weather was clear today. As long as traffic flowed smoothly she should still make it in plenty of time to complete her task and get back to her bookstore near the North Vancouver Quay for opening. Luckily her route wouldn’t involve either of the bridges. She breathed a small prayer of thanks for that small mercy. Her mouth was dry and the skin on her arms was beginning to resemble that of a cold naked chicken as she thought about what she was about to do. Then she pictured Andrew Peterson’s incredible, muscular physique, smiling blue eyes and the gentle way he interacted with his nieces and knew she was doing the right thing. As her father had always said: “You’ll never know unless you try.” Although he probably wouldn't be pleased that she was applying his wisdom to an attempt to improve her stagnant love life. Casey considered the way she felt when she was the recipient of Andrew Peterson’s smile worth pursuing, or totally avoiding, but that went against everything she went to therapy to stop doing. Scott had completely messed with her head for a while. And she was determined that his memory was not going to dictate how she saw every other man who crossed her path. She wouldn't give him that power. The worst that could happen is Andrew would say, “No, thank you” to her invitation. Right? Or was that the best thing that could happen? She wasn’t sure which was better, but there was only one way to find out. Casey spied the entrance to the hospital parking lot, took a deep breath and signalled her intention to turn. She parked in a spot conveniently near the building and, with her heart in her throat, slowly approached the emergency entrance. Nervous didn’t even cover what she was feeling. But she wasn’t going to back down now. She walked up to the admitting desk and relayed her request with only a tiny warble in her voice. The woman’s response didn’t register at first. When it finally sunk in, Casey felt as if she had been punched in the gut. “What do you mean he was discharged last night?” She demanded in amazement. “He had a severely sprained knee, at least one broken rib and possible internal injuries! Who the hell just let him walk out of the hospital?” She squeaked. Her voice an octave higher than normal. “He should have been kept at least overnight for observation.” She took a deep breath and tried to pull herself together; people were starting to stare. But really, what idiot let him leave? All her planning and preparing for this meeting was for nothing. The nurse’s aid on the receiving end of Casey’s wrath looked around in desperation for a supervisor. A pang of remorse hit Casey as she realized she was being totally unfair to the poor girl. It wasn’t her fault that Andrew had already left, or that she had been so wound up at the thought of seeing him again. She ran her fingers through her already tousled curls, “I’m sorry, I guess I’m just a little stressed. Could you please find out when he was discharged?” She lowered her tone and smiled apologetically at the girl. With an air of relief at being able to do something to appease the crazy woman in front of her, the aide hurried to check the hospital’s system for the requested information. She typed a few moments then frowned; when she glanced up from the screen her expression conveyed her sympathy and her wariness. “It looks like he checked himself out last night, against his doctor’s orders. I'm really sorry, but that’s all the information I’m at liberty to divulge.” Casey thanked the girl, turned around, and walked back towards the parking lot. 3.2 minutes from the moment she entered, to the moment she walked out. It must be an all time new record for striking out. All the anticipation and excitement and nervousness evaporated leaving her feeling wasted and disappointed. It obviously wasn’t meant to be, but at least she had done something to try. Sighing ruefully, she unlocked her car. Life was short, and it was important to make every moment count, no matter how difficult it might be, and she just had to accept that not everything turns out the way you want it to. It still didn’t make her any happier. She glanced at the clock on the console as she started her Escort and blinked in surprise. Right now she had to hope the next few moments would creep by very slowly — because she was already going to be really late opening the store. ***** “Uncle Andrew? Are you awake, Uncle Andrew?” a small voice whispered in his right ear. “Uncle Andrew.” The voice was more insistent this time. Afraid the next call for attention would be more than his pounding head could handle, Andrew opened his eyes and peered at his visitor. “He’s awake, Mom!” Little Paula screeched towards the open bedroom door. How could something so small be so loud? Andrew groaned, rolled over onto his good side, being careful not to jar his taped rib, and pulled a pillow over his head. He felt like he’d been hit by a Mac truck and then gone a few rounds with a WWF wrestler just for fun. Every bone in his body ached and it hurt to breathe. “Paula, I told you not to wake your Uncle.” His sister’s voice chastised her youngest daughter from the doorway. “He needs his rest.” “But, he’s already awake.” Little Paula protested in her own defence. She tugged at the pillow covering Andrew’s head to prove to her mother that she was telling the truth. Andrew held on tight. Realizing he was unfairly teasing an 8 year old, he pulled the pillow from over his eyes and slowly sat up in bed. “It’s OK Ange, I’m awake. I need to get up anyway.” He winced at the pain in his rib and smoothed the chenille bedspread over his legs. He was sleeping in his sister’s guest bedroom, a beautiful room at the back of the house that overlooked the Sound. He knew that just by opening the sunflower printed curtains framing one end of the room he would feel as if he was floating over the water with nothing between him and the North Shore but birds and boats and maybe a few bugs. The view was incredible. His glance swung around the room taking in the polished antiques, the pale yellow walls with bright white trim and the lush beige carpet he knew his toes would sink into as soon as he stood up. The décor was not something he would choose himself but it was attractive and very cozy, even from a guy’s point of view. “How are you feeling this morning?” Angela was the epitome of the concerned mother. She strode purposefully into the room and smoothed his brow with her hand. “Are you sure it was a good idea checking yourself out of the hospital last night? The doctors said they wanted you to stay around for observation.” Andrew grabbed his sister’s hand before she did any more motherly smoothing. “I’m fine. A little sore and stiff maybe but otherwise fine.” His reassurance would have been more convincing if he hadn’t winced in the middle of it. “I would have just worried about you being here on your own and not gotten any rest anyway.” He smiled fondly at Angela and reached over to pull one of Paula’s braids. “Fat lot of good you would have been in an emergency.” Angela scoffed, bending over to pick up the wooden crutches from where they had fallen the night before. “What would you have done, hobbled over to an intruder and hit him over the head with one of these?” She leaned the crutches against the wall near the bed. Her gaze was mocking as she turned back to face him. “Assuming of course you didn’t fall over in the process.” She was laughing openly. “Laugh at a man when he’s down, will you?” Andrew roared in his best boardroom voice, then winced and held his breath as his ribs protested. With a sheepish smile he admitted: “Well, I could have dialled 911 and offered emotional support.” He started laughing with her, being careful this time not to cause himself any more pain. He sobered quickly; he had too much to do today to spend any more time sitting in bed. “OK, that’s enough! All women out of my room.” He pointed to the door. “Little girls too!” He leaned over to growl at Paula. “I have to get up and dressed and unless you want to see me in my skivvies, you’d better get moving!” Angela laughed. “Now that’s a sight I haven’t seen since you were 10. I don’t think I need an encore, little brother. Come on, child of mine; let’s go see how your sister is doing with your baby brother.” She ushered Paula out of the room. “I let Janie baby-sit this morning.” She glanced at Andrew, “That child’s cry can rattle even the hardiest soul.” She was through the doorway and about to pull the door shut when Andrew stopped her. “Angie, I’m really sorry about this. I’m supposed to help and here I am practically a cripple from my own stupidity. As soon as I’m back on my feet I’ll give you a hand again.” He was totally serious now. His main purpose for this trip had been to give his sister a hand while her husband was out of town, and he meant to keep that promise. Kevin had been called away on an important assignment for his accounting firm. As head of the fraud division he was often away for long periods of time on classified assignments, and while that in itself wouldn’t have normally required Angela to have company, she had just given birth to a baby boy. With two energetic girls running around she had been a wreck at the thought of coping on her own. Andrew had, in true, if unexpected, brotherly fashion, offered his support. After all, even he could keep a couple of young girls entertained for a couple of weeks. And he had done so, admirably, until yesterday. Angela regarded him fondly. “You know what Andrew? You may have been joking but that emotional support you offered is a great help. Besides,” She continued, laughing, “If the girls start getting under foot, I can just send them over to help you. That should keep them busy for a few hours.” She started to close the door, still smiling. “Oh, by the way, I’ll be up later to get more of the scoop on that sexy little patroller that helped you yesterday. I want all the juicy details.” She shut the door with a click. A rolled up sock hitting the back of the door was his only response. Andrew sighed, pushed the blankets aside and slowly got out of bed. He’d better get moving or he’d be late for his ten o’clock appointment. The only way the doctor had allowed him to be released early was by promising to come in first thing this morning for a follow-up. He had half an hour to get there and hurrying was going to be difficult in his condition. As he hobbled into the guest room’s en-suite bath, his thoughts turned to yesterday’s cute little angel of mercy. In his mind he could see her sexy legs and tiny waist and those incredible emerald eyes. Andrew felt his groin tighten as he removed his one piece of clothing and temporary knee brace and stepped gingerly into the shower. As the warm water rushed over his now naked body, he couldn’t help wondering what they would have been like together. Too bad she wasn’t someone he could really ever consider asking out. She looked like the home and hearth type, and he definitely wasn’t. Shaking his wet head he quickly turned the water to cold. At this rate he’d never get to the hospital on time. ***** Twenty minutes later he was gazing blankly out the cab’s window as they pulled into the hospital’s parking lot. He heard squealing brakes and ignored the sound. The cab driver probably cut someone else off. It would be the third time since he had been picked up. He hated hospitals and hoped this would be quick. He needed to get back to his sister and the kids. Even in his incapacitated state he was more help there than sitting in a waiting room here. A nurse and a wheelchair met him at the door. He would prefer to walk but, because of “Hospital Policy…” the nurse recited as if she read a cue card, he couldn’t. And then she continued on, something about insurance…Andrew blocked her out, lost in his own thoughts. Interminable minutes later they arrived at the admitting desk. Andrew hoisted himself to his feet with the help of his crutches and introduced himself. The young nurse behind the desk blushed and smiled at him coyly. Andrew smiled back. He knew he was an attractive man; he hadn’t reached the age of 34 without women letting him know it in one way or another. But he had a policy to only date women who were mature enough to handle the type of relationship he could offer at his point in life. No strings, no commitments. He was a busy man and didn’t have time for the games of normal courtship. Most of his dates knew the score and were content to accept what he offered. He didn’t get involved with anyone he thought would expect more. It wasn’t fair. To either of them. He was completing the required paperwork when another young nurse’s aide walked over to him. “Mr. Andrew Peterson?” “Yes? What can I do for you?” He smiled. The girl twittered nervously for a moment as she collected her thoughts. “Um, Mr. Peterson sir.” Sir? That put him in his place. “There was a woman here earlier, sir. She was looking for you, seemed kind of disappointed to find that you had been released last night.” The aide stopped talking for a moment to adjust her lab coat and pull a strand of hair nervously around her finger. “She didn’t leave a message, but I thought you might like to know.” Andrew was surprised, the only person he knew in Vancouver except for that sexy blonde waitress at the sushi place he had taken out one night, was his sister. He looked at the nurse quizzically. “Did she leave a name?” At the shake of her head, “What did she look like?” “Um, shorter than me, red curly hair…” “Casey.” He cut the nurse off. “When was she here?” “You just missed her sir, she left …” The woman glanced at her watch. “I’d say no more than half an hour ago.” Andrew thanked the young nurse and turned back to complete his paperwork. Casey was looking for him. That was something he hadn’t expected. He had recognized her interest, of course. He wasn’t blind. But he’d taken her for the shy, retiring type, someone who would definitely be too shy to make a first move. Maybe he’d underestimated her. Maybe he was reading more into it than he should be. Maybe she wouldn’t be as easy to get out of his mind as he had imagined. Andrew looked enigmatically towards the door. And maybe this one would be worth looking up after all. Smiling at the thought, he limped towards his appointment. CHAPTER FIVE Casey shut the Reading Room Bookstore’s door behind her. She smiled at the melodious chime created by a string of tiny silver bells swinging lightly in the breeze from a nearby window. Her brief enjoyment was rudely interrupted by a shrill wolf-whistle. “Wow! Hey, hot momma! Come here often?” She mock-scowled and turned in the direction of the voice. “None of that now, Mikey.” Her voice was prim. “Don’t forget who you’re talking to.” But she couldn’t contain a small grin as she walked purposefully towards the cash desk. “Yeah, the old slave driver herself.” Michael, her assistant/right-hand man/lifesaver emerged from behind a stack of new mysteries he was in the process of shelving. His blue jeans and t-shirt, although a little rumpled and dusty, were more in keeping with the usual tone of the place than Casey’s silk dress. He ran his hands over his sleek mahogany hair and tightened his ponytail. “What’s with the power clothes? Someone die?” Casey shot him a look. Michael had a very odd sense of humour. “No, Weirdo. Can’t a woman dress up just because she feels like it?” “Sure she can. Just not you.” The look he turned on Casey was appraising. Leaning against the end of a bookshelf, he watched her with a contemplative gleam in his brown eyes. “Hot date or something?” “None of your business. Don’t you have work to do?” Casey snapped and ran an irritated hand through her already messed up curls. “Oh, Oh, I think I hit a nerve.” Michael’s look grew more probing. “Anyone I know, or is it a secret?” “I don’t have a date and don’t want to talk about it.” She snapped again, then softened her voice and smiled apologetically. “Rough morning.” Casey sighed heavily and tried to smooth the damage she’d done to her hairdo. “Sorry I’m late.” She offered over her shoulder as she placed her briefcase on the floor behind the cash desk and started the morning ritual of filling the cash drawer. “Anything exciting happen this weekend?” She glanced back at Michael. “We found a copy of that Joan Hess novel you were looking for.” Michael straightened from his perch. “Did you want to put it in the window with the other new editions or display it on the cash counter?” He moved over to stand against the customer side of the cash desk. “In the window, I think.” Casey was relieved that Michael had given up his line of questioning. She didn’t want to discuss her actions of this morning with anyone; it was all much too embarrassing. What had she been thinking anyway? She also regretted putting on this dress. True, she felt very feminine in it but it was completely inappropriate for climbing through the stacks. Now she’d be limited to serving coffee in the reading room, while Michael did all the shelf work. And that was something no one should have to do alone; hard, boring, dusty work, it wasn’t a lot of fun. Michael sauntered away to continue his organizing. The change sorted, Casey closed the cash drawer with a bang and picked up a battered feather duster. Dusting the shelves, straightening books, and readying the store for opening was pretty mindless, but it was a routine that helped her prepare for the long day ahead. As she worked, the soothing colors in the room worked their magic and relaxed her tense muscles. The floors, carpeted a dark forest green, made her feel as if she was walking over a lush lawn. The heavy patterned paper on the walls, reminiscent of the early 19th century, and the wainscoting covering the lower half of the walls (at least those walls not already covered with bookshelves) gave the room an early Victorian parlour look. Add to that the woodwork on the ceiling finished the same color as the antique bookshelves and the plants and flowers Casey had hung in every available corner and the overall effect was cozy and quiet. Many a customer had commented that it felt as if they were stepping back in time or into the middle of a soothing forest setting when they walked through her door, and more than once Casey had been required to wake a sleeping patron who was in danger of spilling hot coffee over himself. As Casey gazed around her she felt a sense of pride in her accomplishment. A lot of hard work had gone into making the bookstore work and, she had to admit, it had all been worth it. Smiling proudly, she walked towards the Art section to return a misplaced book. True the idea wasn’t a new concept, not really, but it did have a slightly different twist on the usual bookstore/coffee shop the big booksellers were developing these days. For one thing almost all her books were second hand, for another the coffee area was situated smack dab in the middle of the bookstore. And patrons were encouraged to pick a book and read while they enjoyed their coffee. The idea had been that the mark-up on coffee was 100 times higher than on the books and if someone became immersed in a good read they were more likely to purchase the book to finish it, than not. In the odd case that the patron didn’t buy the book, they always returned for more coffee to sit and read some more, and the book still remained available for sale. There was some risk to it, but it was working out way better than she could have ever imagined. She did her usual tour of the seating arrangements, carefully examining each for cleanliness. The five seating areas, as Casey liked to call them, were made up of two or three overstuffed easy chairs and a low coffee table or, in one case, a patchwork love seat, very old and very worn but incredibly comfortable, with a large footstool for resting weary feet on. Checking the bulbs on the tiffany lamps hung low over each area, she was pleased to note that they were all still working. She turned on the floor lamp situated behind the love seat. “Drat.” Figures, one of them had to be burnt out. They had been so busy lately it wasn’t too surprising at least one of the bulbs had reached the end of its life cycle. She searched through the shelves behind the cash counter for a replacement bulb. She’d just bought a huge box at Costco. It had to be here somewhere. With hands on hips she straightened in frustration. “Michael, where are the light bulbs!” She yelled back into the bookstore where Michael was once again busy stacking books. “Under the coffee maker.” His reply was muffled, but decipherable. “The coffee maker. Of course, why didn’t I think of that.” She mocked as she walked over to the coffee counter. Finding the elusive box tucked into the far corner of the cabinet, she replaced the burnt bulb in the floor lamp and then went to work. Turning on the cappuccino maker, she did a quick inventory of the regular and decaf coffee, tea, juice and their stock of espressos; everything seemed to be ready for the day. All that was left was to make the coffee. Michael appeared at the doorway, a thoughtful frown on his face as he watched her. “Have you given any more thought to my suggestion about adding more exotic coffees and pastries to the menu?” Casey looked up in surprise; she hadn’t heard him enter. “Sorry Mike, I didn’t see you there.” Her knees creaked as she straightened from her half kneeling position. “You know my feelings on the subject. So far we’re doing just fine.” She grabbed the coffee pot and walked to the small sink set off to one side and turned the cold tap full. As the water splashed into the urn, she continued: “I promise to look into the idea later this year. We have to see how our cash flow is. I don’t want to do too much too soon.” “But…” “Not now Michael. It’s just too soon.” She returned with the full coffee pot and poured it into the top of the machine, then flicked the switch to start the brewing process. “And to be honest, if we do expand our line we should seriously consider sourcing free trade beans and maybe starting to sell more bulk items. Go full out with the coffee business…..” She stopped and chewed her lip thoughtfully. “There’s a lot I’d like to do, but I don’t want to expand so fast we risk what we’ve built so far.” “Good point, Boss.” He agreed with a shrug, “but we should start doing some research soon. We don’t want to be left behind, there are more and more shops like this opening up all the time, we need to keep changing and growing to stay fresh, or risk becoming obsolete.” “Also a good point.” She agreed ruefully. Michael jogged back to the cash desk to answer the phone, and that ended the conversation for the time being. She knew some serious thought was going to have to be put into the future, and sooner was definitely better than too late. Coffee preparations completed, she poured herself a cup of the strong brew and went in search of a good book to read during today’s story time. Entering the section set aside for just that purpose, she smiled. This section of the store was definitely her personal favourite. Located in the far back corner of the bookshop, it was surrounded by the children’s and young reader’s selections and slightly separate from the rest of the bookstore. There was an armchair, similar to the ones found in the coffee area, available for the reader, and the children would have their choice of multicoloured pillows scattered around the floor to sit on or recline against. Casey’s smile widened as she remembered last week’s reading and the enterprising youngsters who made pillow houses to sit in while listening to the stories. Story time had been Michael’s brainchild and it had proved it’s worth time and time again. While children listened, parents bought; both books and coffee. Their sales had almost doubled since its inception nearly a year ago and had reached the point where they had to seriously consider hiring another helper. Maybe just part time to begin with…. Spying a children’s book that had been one of her favourites as a child, Casey pulled it off the shelf and waved it in the air to get Michael’s attention. “I think we’ll read this one today.” Michael peeked around the corner of the stacks to view the book she was holding up. “Good choice, not too short but enough pictures to still hold the kids’ attention. Should allow us plenty of time to get a few good sales out of the parents.” She and Michael made a good team. He had a knack of keeping her thinking on a business level. Sometimes her love of books was too great to be objective when it came to choosing what she would read. Casey flipped through the book idly as she sipped her coffee; her attention though, was focused on the partnership stake she was considering offering Michael. One of these days she’d have to sit down and work out all the details. The ringing of the telephone interrupted her thoughts and her attention wandered to where Michael was picking up the extension. With a flip of his wrist he indicated it was for her. He put it on hold and went back to what he was doing. “I’ll get that in the back room Michael, it’s probably my sister.” She put down the book and walked in the direction of the storeroom/office, a room basically no bigger than a large closet. “It’ll probably be a long call. Could you hang the open sign and watch the store for a bit?” Michael sent her a thumbs-up form his perch on top of one of the ladders he’d climbed to replace a stray book. “If it starts getting busy just give me a yell. I’ll probably need an excuse to hang up on her. She’s so hard to get away from.” She sighed in exasperation and, as the frosted glass door clicked closed behind her, picked up the phone. “Hello, Stephanie.” Casey made herself comfortable in the only chair in the room and put her feet up on the tiny desk still littered with filing she hadn’t got around to yet. “How did you know it was me?” The disembodied voice of her younger sister floated to her over the phone line. “Never mind about that.” Stephanie dismissed her own question. “What was that quick little comment this morning about asking an accident victim out for lunch? Did you do it? Are you really dating again? It’s about time; you’ve been single for way too long….” Casey let her sister talk until she ran out of steam. “How do you know he isn’t an axe murderer or something? Don’t you think you should ask a few more questions before planning my wedding?” Casey’s sarcastic question echoed around the small stockroom. She took a sip of her quickly cooling coffee and, with a moue of distaste, reached back to deposit the mug on a shelf behind her. “Oh, don’t be a wimp Case, you know what I mean. Anyway, if he weren’t a respectable human being you wouldn’t be asking him out. So give, what happened?” “Nothing.” “What do you mean ‘Nothing’?” Stephanie’s voice demanded incredulously. “He wasn’t there.” “But…” Casey took pity on her sister’s curiosity. “He’d checked himself out the night before.” She sighed heavily, as the full import of her actions registered. Leaning back farther in her chair, she twirled one lock of hair idly around her finger. “I’m sorry Casey.” Stephanie sounded sincere. “Were you really upset?” “I thought I was relieved, but now…. I just don’t know.” Casey was surprised to hear herself answer honestly. “To be truthful Steph, he was the most attractive, exciting man I had ever met and he was so gentle with his two young nieces. It just made my heart melt. I felt that I should try, you know? I’m sure he forgot all about me as soon as he walked out the door. It was probably for the best.” She finished, not sure if she was trying to convince her sister or herself. “So what did this mystery man look like to make you act so out of character? You never chase men. You’ve always been so shy and quiet around strangers. He must have been really something.” “Oh yeah, he was definitely that.” Casey closed her eyes and pictured the man she had seen so briefly. “He was tall, probably six, two or three. It was hard to tell he was lying down most of the time.” She ignored her sister’s snicker. “Dark blond, wavy hair; the brightest, bluest most penetrating eyes I’ve ever seen; great nose; square jaw with just enough stubble to make him look untamed–very Mel Gibsonish. You know, like in the old Lethal Weapon movies? But on a blonder scale if that makes any sense. Arms and chest and abs to rival those of any superstar; …very, very… sexy, to say the least.” Casey opened her eyes to banish the image from her mind. Was it getting warm in here? “Wow. Ok, I’ve got a pretty good idea of why you wanted to ask him out. I’m getting hot just trying to picture him. Axe murderer be damned. Everyone needs a little danger in their lives, I always say.” “No you don’t Steph. You’re an accountant who insists on analyzing everything to death. You’re even impossible to go to a movie with; it takes hours for you to read every review and compile all the data.” Casey mocked her sister. “Well, whatever.” Stephanie knew not to take offence. Teasing was a way of life with them. “I’m glad you made the effort. There are other men out there, and now that you’ve broken the ice, maybe you’ll find another one. It’s about time you got over Scott. He was a vicious vindictive louse. And he never deserved you.” “Yeah. Maybe.” Casey didn’t feel convinced. “He called me again last week.” “Who did? Scott?” Her sister’s voice raised an octave. “What did he want?” She demanded. “He’d better not be trying to get back into your good graces. He’s a slimy bastard. I hope you don't believe anything he tells you?” “I didn’t talk to him. He just left a message saying he called. I didn’t call him back.” She leaned back in her chair and examined the ceiling. “Well don’t.” Casey knew Steph only had her best interests at heart, so didn’t let her demanding tone get to her, but she wished just once she could just talk to her sister, explain her feelings, how inadequate she felt now, how Scott had messed with more than just her ability to love, he’d messed with her ability to trust. But Steph never let the talk turn that deep, she was a good woman, but was more comfortable with giving orders than discussing feelings. She had her reasons, Casey knew, but just once…..she sighed and let the thought go. “Don’t worry Steph; I’m not going to do anything that stupid.” “I should hope not.” Steph retorted. “So are you going to try to find where this mystery man disappeared to?” She changed the subject again. “Are you kidding, it took all the nerve I had just to visit him at the hospital, and I had a reasonable excuse to do that.” “Well, it’ll be too bad to just let him go; you may be missing out on something wonderful. Anyway the reason I called earlier….” Casey went on autopilot for the next 25 minutes while her sister lamented about her latest love and the problem she was having with her sick Persian cat. Funny how some people had no idea how to listen to someone else’s problems, but could drone on for hours about every miniscule detail of their own. Her mind wandered back to the question of Andrew. It would be too bad to just let him go; the chemistry between them had been so…. ‘Incredible’ didn’t even cover it. But how? All she had was his sister’s address and even that was in the files at the ski hill. Maybe between now and the next day she patrolled she’d find the nerve to call the sister and track him down. But then she didn’t want to appear too desperate either…. Casey sighed silently and slumped further in her chair. This trying to date thing was more work than it was worth…. Wasn’t it? Andrew’s smiling eyes floated into her mind to taunt her. Casey tuned back into Stephanie’s latest lament. Somehow she gave all the right answers and managed to make her sister feel good about the latest man problem she was dealing with, without actually hearing most of what she said. A light tap on the door was her cue to hang up. “Look Steph, I’m sure you’ll do the right thing. You always do… Steph, I have to go now, Michael needs me up front… I’ll talk to you later.” Much later hopefully, Casey sighed to herself. Sometimes talking to her sister was really emotionally draining. Even without a long discussion of her own love life…or lack there-of. They said their goodbyes and Casey re-entered the bookstore. She felt as if she had just woken from a dream. Talking to Stephanie did that sometimes. Usually such a level-headed, organized woman, her sister could turn flaky when you least expected it. But even so she didn’t know what she’d do without her. Casey walked up to the woman waiting at the cash desk and returned to the business of running a bookstore. “Hi, what can I help you with today?” CHAPTER SIX "What’s the surprise Uncle Andrew?” Janie asked for the tenth time that morning. “If I told you it wouldn’t be a surprise.” Andrew stretched his arms over his head and adjusted his position on the recliner. It had been more than three days since his accident and already he was feeling much better. And to top it all off, it was an absolutely beautiful day. The sun was shining, the flowers were starting to bloom and in the distance the voices of playing children could be heard over the crashing of the surf. This is the life; Andrew closed his eyes contentedly. Illinois would be knee deep in snow right now, or in the middle of Tornado warnings. The thought made him cringe. For a man who never took a vacation he was having no trouble making the most of his time with his family. For the first time in his life he was not looking forward to going back to work. Although he was beginning to feel that familiar twinge that always told him he’d been in one place for too long. Travel was so much in his blood now that he had a hard time staying still for any length of time anymore. When Kevin returned at the end of the week he’d head off to some exotic location for a real holiday, although the invitation from a friend of his to use his home just outside of Whistler was also sounding pretty good. His thoughts drifted to a subject that was never far from his subconscious: Work. He knew his co-workers at the offices of International Construction Equipment Co. considered him the worst of all the workaholics. And it was probably true. But that fact was also the reason he had been offered the incredible promotion that waited for him when he returned to the States. The other of course was the fantastic results of the latest sales effort he had been instrumental in organizing. He had been the first Vice President of Marketing to increase market share to such an extent. An increase in three divisions of 22% combined for the quarter was unprecedented, at least in recent history, and was a feat that had not been overlooked by his superiors. It had earned him an offer to be the next president of the small lawn and garden segment of the company when the present one retired in the next year, as well as this month long holiday. He had been adamant that he needed the time to decompress and really give the option all the thought it would need. Not that he had stopped working completely, or even could. Smart phones made it way too easy to keep in touch instantly, anywhere, and he was finding himself drawn back in to the day to day problems at the firm more and more as each day passed. He wasn't sure how he felt about it. The presidency was a great opportunity, and it meant a move to the sunny warmth of Atlanta which he was all for, but for some reason he was hesitant to leap at it. Not that it wasn’t an incredible coup to be offered a presidency at 34 but…He enjoyed a challenge and the lawn and garden segment was well established, and doing extremely well in terms of market share already. Where was the challenge in running it? He leaned back further in his chair and sighed. He used to be so sure of his career goals, had it all mapped out. Corner office by the age of 35, and now that this goal was within his grasp he wasn't as convinced that it was the right move for him after all. He needed a challenge, excitement, continual movement, and he was afraid the presidency he had been offered would smother him. Andrew sighed again and stretched, enjoying the sun on his face. He had made the right choice in deciding to come here for at least part of his month long holiday. Angela’s call, just as he was debating the pros and cons of different locations, had determined his destination for at least half the duration and had offered him an opportunity to spend some real time with his only sister and her family. Something he had sadly neglected in the last few years. A huge splash as Paula leapt into the heated swimming pool woke him from his reverie. He opened his eyes. Only in Vancouver could you be skiing on the weekend, and then hopping into a heated swimming pool a few days later. Granted it was too cold to lie around in a bathing suit, but the heat of the sun was relaxing and the temperature of the pool made the cold dash from the house almost worth it. Not that Andrew was planning on doing any swimming, himself. The kids on the other hand barely felt the cold. Or at lease Paula barely felt it. Janie was still bundled up in a fleece sweater. Janie was still standing over his chair waiting for more information. Tenacious little devil. Andrew smiled. “I’m still not going to tell you so you may as well go swim or something. You’ll find out after lunch. Now shoo.” He made a shooing gesture with his hand. “You’re a big meany, Uncle Andrew!” He knew Janie didn’t mean it. It was just her way of trying to make him feel guilty about not telling her anything. “You think that’s mean?” Andrews’s eyes sparkled. “Well what do you think of this?” For a man with a broken rib he was surprisingly quick. Before Janie had a chance to react Andrew had risen from his lounger, grabbed her around the waist and hung her upside down above the deep end of the pool. “Now promise you won’t ask again.” “No, Uncle Andrew! It’s too cold!” Janie protested, squirming while she fought gravity to keep her sundress from hanging down over her head and showing off her underwear to anyone close enough to look. “Your sister is swimming.” Came his reasonable answer, Her slight weight wasn’t enough to even wind him as she struggled like a little eel. He lowered her closer to the water. “So? She’s young and stupid.” Her voice was an octave higher than normal. Paula’s yelp of protest went ignored. “I don’t have a bathing suit on and I just did my hair!” Janie was struggling in earnest now. “I’m sorry; I promise I won’t ask again!” She wailed in surrender. Andrew swung her back over dry land and gently placed her on the flagstone patio. Janie smoothed her sundress, pulled her sweater back down over her hips and tried to look mature and unruffled. Angela chose that moment to open the sliding patio doors leading from the basement rec. room. “Are you teasing my daughters Andrew?” She laughed at him. “Mommy, Mommy, he was going to throw me in!” Janie ran to her mother’s side. “Just because I want to know what his surprise is for us this afternoon.” All pretence of maturity had vanished; she became the wronged little girl, clinging to her mother for support. “Well, honey, it wouldn’t be a surprise then would it?” Angela answered evenly. “You too, Mom?” Her look was incredulous. “Grownups!” She stalked into the house in outrage. “Lunch is ready so don’t go far.” Angela cautioned. Turning back toward the pool, she called to her other daughter. “Paula, get out and get dry sweetie, lunch is ready. “You too Mean Uncle Andrew.” She laughed at him. “What have you got planned?” Her curiosity got the better of her. “Now, if I told you it wouldn’t be a secret, would it?” He gave her a Cheshire cat grin. Angela just smiled and rolled her eyes. Her expression turned to one of concern. “I hope you’re not doing too much; just three days ago you were flat on your back with a sprained knee and a broken rib.” “I’m fine Ange, don’t worry. And the surprise isn’t something that will make me any worse.” Giving his sister a reassuring pat on the shoulder, he picked up the newspaper he had been reading and, limping only slightly, walked towards the house. He glanced down at the face of the woman smiling up at him from the entertainment section and a small grin dimpled his cheek. He hadn’t really been looking; she’d just fallen into his lap. Even he wasn’t enough of a cynic to just ignore something handed to him on a silver platter. ****** “Michael, where are those two Janet Daily books that arrived yesterday?” Casey called over her shoulder from where she perched high on top of one of the sliding ladders in the romance section. “I had a call-in request for them and I’m sure they haven’t been sold yet.” “If they’re not on the shelves, look in the box at the bottom of your ladder.” Michael called back. He was organizing the children’s reading area for the regularly scheduled Wednesday reading. Their schedule varied. Mondays were for the tiny kids, Wednesday’s they read stories for older kids and Friday they played it by ear. Whoever showed up got to pick the story to read by a vote. Today being Wednesday Michael was trying to find an appropriate book for older children, one that had some real meat to it that might generate some discussion. These sessions often turned quite lively as the kids all vied to give their opinion on topics from separating parents to after school television shows. Wednesday’s were Michael’s reading days. He enjoyed the interaction with the older kids. Casey preferred reading to the smaller children who would sit quietly and enthralled (usually) until the end, and she considered it a personal goal to keep their attention throughout. The door chime jingled, indicating more patrons arriving for story time. The store was filling up fast, Casey was happy to notice. It should be a good session. When the sun shone you couldn’t tell what was going to happen. Some days they were totally dead, others they were practically standing room only. Today looked like one of the standing room only days. Found one! Casey was jubilant. Just in time too, the ladder rung she was standing on was beginning to hurt the bottom of her feet. The other book must still be in the box. It was around here somewhere. Mumbling about disorganization and the desperate need to find someone to help out part time, Casey descended the ladder – and walked straight into the arms of Andrew Peterson! Casey stared at him in surprise. Too shocked to speak she could only watch bemused, as he carefully disentangled her suddenly numb arm from where it had become caught in the ladder. The touch of his warm fingers on her bare skin sent electric shocks through her body; she felt her backbone melt and her blood course hotly. Attracted seemed such a tame word for how he made her feel. Fully conscious, alert, with that sexy little smile on his face, he was even more incredible looking than she had remembered. When she spoke her voice was no more than a squeak. “Andrew!” Clearing her throat awkwardly she continued in a more normal tone. “What are you doing here? I mean…” Doubt, confusion and awareness combined to enhance her uncertainty. He was standing so close she could feel the heat emanating from his body, smell the spicy scent of his aftershave, see the little flecks of gold in his startling blue eyes; his breath fanned the hair at her temple. If she’d thought he was sexy on the hill then she didn’t even know how to describe him now. She couldn’t breathe. Casey managed to choke out a feeble “excuse me,” and pulled away from him. Turning on her heel she marched stiffly around the corner of the bookshelf. Leaning her flushed forehead against the cool wood of the bookcase she took a huge breathe of air and tried to pull herself together. Did she know how to impress a man, or what? He must think she was a stupid blathering idiot. She smoothed her hair, tucked in the periwinkle t-shirt that had come loose from the waistband of her white shorts, took a deep breath and strode purposefully back around the corner. Andrew was standing in the same spot she had left him, leaning against the shelf. With surprised laughter in his eyes and a half smile on his full lips, he watched her approach. Casey nearly chickened out and ran and hid in the storeroom but squashed the impulse. Holding out her hand, she tried to pretend the last two minutes had never happened and approached him. “Andrew, welcome to my bookstore, I’m sorry about that, I just had to put a book away before I lost it again.” She fibbed almost convincingly. Her voice was as professional as she could make it. “How are you feeling after the accident? I must say you’re looking fit.” That was lame. “I mean of course that you seem to have recovered well.” Andrew grasped her hand in his and she had to choke back the gasp that threatened. “I’m feeling much better, still a bit tender but recovering quickly.” His gentle smile and slightly mocking tone indicated better than words his awareness of her discomfort, and suggested he found her attempt to cover them up amusing. “I brought Paula and Janie by for your famous story time. They seem to be pretty excited.” He dropped the overly formal tone and smiled. Casey looked over at the story area where the two girls were busy setting up their seating, piling the cushions as high as they would go around them, and smiled with him, and then felt momentarily deflated. Of course, that was the reason he was here. For a moment she’d had a silly notion that he was here to see her. But that of course was dumb; he couldn’t have known this was her store until he walked in. She moved some books around on the shelf; extremely aware of how closely Andrew was watching her. A man like him wouldn’t have to search for a woman anyway; he probably had hundreds stashed all over the city. That thought gave Casey the edge she needed to cool her overactive imagination. She turned back to face him. “Of course, you must have read about us in the Times. They did a wonderful story covering the new, upcoming businesses in the area didn’t they? It should really help tourism.” She turned and as nonchalantly as possible, strolled over to stand behind the relative safety of the cash desk. “Please let me know if I can help you with anything.” She finished, sounding as prim and proper as her grandmother used to, and turned to face him. Her eyes widened. Andrew was leaning across from her with his forearms on the desk and was so close she nearly bumped noses with him. She fiddled with the keys on the cash register. “Can I do something for you?” The primness was gone; her voice wavered. Andrew pushed himself up and relaxed one hip casually against the edge of the desk. He was staring her straight in the eye with such intensity that Casey felt the hair on the back of her neck tingle. “Have lunch with me?” “Pardon me?” Casey was so mesmerized by his expression: a combination of laughter, tenderness and pure male interest that she nearly missed the question. “I have to be honest Casey; I couldn’t stop thinking about you after you helped me on Sunday.” His voice was almost apologetic. He rubbed one hand across the back of his neck. “This is no chance encounter, I called the ski hill to find out where you worked during the week but they weren’t much help.” A small grin lit his face. “I couldn’t believe it when I opened the morning paper and saw your smiling face. It was a great write up they did on your store-very impressive….” She nodded weakly in thanks, and couldn’t ignore the thrill she felt at his words. "…. So I grabbed the girls and brought them over. I’d very much like you to have lunch with me.” Casey shot him a look of total incomprehension. His tone turned teasing. “No strings, just lunch” He smiled wolfishly and leaned closer. “So what do you say?” He wanted to take her to lunch. He was impressed with her little business. He couldn’t stop thinking about her. Her? Casey? Wow. She shook her head to clear it. “Well,” She cleared her throat. “As long as we’re being honest…” Casey took a deep breath. “I went to find you at the hospital on Monday to ask you to go to lunch with me…” She blurted. “I know.” Andrew’s smile grew wider. Casey just gaped at him. “How could you possibly know that?” “The nurse described you.” His smile still firmly in place he leaned towards her and twined on strand of hair around his finger. “I don’t know too many women with hair like this.” “Oh.” Casey could feel the heat rise in her cheeks as she blushed. “So…. is that a ‘yes’ then.” Casey could feel her mouth stretch into a huge grin. “Yes Andrew, that would be a ‘yes’.” Was it Christmas already? Was this some sort of gift for good behaviour? To have this incredibly handsome, charismatic man search her out… it was more than she could have ever asked for. Her smile grew wider and wider as the full import of his invitation registered. He not only remembered her, but he was as interested in her as she was in him. Wow. Andrew drew in his breath, his eyes registered shock for a moment before a veil came down and he smiled slightly. “Good.” “Oh wait.” Her face dropped. She scowled in irritation. “I’m sorry, I really can’t. We’re shorthanded as it is and…” “You have to eat don’t you.” Andrew’s expression was teasingly persuasive. “Well, yes…but….” “No buts, I’ll pick you up here tomorrow. Say 12:30?” He untwined her hair carefully and moved purposefully away from the desk. She couldn’t say no. “Yes… yes, ok…since you put it that way.” Her smile was shy. “I’d love to.” “Great.” He smiled. “I’d better let you get back to work. I’ll just go check on the girls.” He saluted quickly and strode purposefully over to the reading area where he stopped next to an incredibly gorgeous blond woman. Casey felt a white-hot knife of jealousy stab her in the heart. It was unexpected, it was silly and childish…. Stop it! He’s only asked you out for lunch. You do not have the right to be jealous. Even so, she was relieved to see his nieces run over to the woman and call her Mommy… His sister. Casey breathed a little easier. Her attention was taken up for the next hour by the steady rush of customers. When she finally looked up Andrew was just leaving. She blushed as he caught her eye and winked roguishly. Then, with a small wave, he was gone. Disappointed, Casey reminded herself she would see him tomorrow. Hugging that thought to her like a security blanket, she turned to help a waiting customer. “So…. who’s the man?” Michael’s voice whispered in her ear as she counted change for the customer. “Shoo!” waving him away like a pesky fly, she thanked the woman in front of her and wished her a good day. “What man?” Casey swung around, her tone innocent. She tried to keep the smile off her face and failed miserably. “The one that had you so flustered you couldn’t even talk straight, the one that had you blushing like an over ripe tomato, the one that…should I go on?” Michael’s voice was mocking. “It’s a long story.” Walking over to a recently vacated table in the reading room, she started to remove the dirty dishes. “Suffice it to say I have a date for lunch with him tomorrow.” She smiled impishly and walked towards the small cleaning sink set back in one corner. “Well, I’ll be damned. Go Girl! Good for you.” Michael whistled appreciatively. “I don’t suppose he had a single sister?” He gave her his best pathetic, hangdog look. He thought it was endearing, but it really only made him look like he’d eaten something that had gone bad. “I don’t think so Mikey. Find your own girl. What do I look like: a dating service?” Casey scoffed as she washed the mugs. “Well you seem to be doing so well for yourself….” At her sardonic look he relented. “Ok. Seriously then, if he turns out to be not such a nice guy, just let me know. I’ll put him in his place. I mean it.” Casey could tell by the look on his face that he did mean it. She gave her hands a last swipe with the towel and walked over to where Michael was still lounging against the cash desk. “Thanks Mike,” She gave him a quick hug. “Now get back to work.” Casey slapped him on the rear end as she walked off. “I don’t pay you to hold up the desk.” “You mean you pay me? Wow, you learn something new everyday. I was beginning to think I was your slave labour.” Michael laughed and returned to stacking shelves. Casey just smiled and shook her head at him. She was deep in thought about what to wear tomorrow. The butterflies were already making themselves felt deep in her stomach. CHAPTER SEVEN The butterflies had turned into full-sized eagles. Casey stood in front of her full-length mirror chewing her lip. Her bedroom resembled a war zone. It looked as if a bomb had exploded in her closet. Clothes were strewn everywhere: There were dresses hanging from tops of doorways, pants and tops were flung carelessly across her bed and dresser, even her underwear drawer was hanging open, drunkenly spilling its contents onto the floor at its base. Casey was regarding herself contemplatively in yet another outfit when she spied, out of the corner of her eye, the clothing on the bed begin to move. It wiggled and rolled and…meowed? A long orange tail sprang loose from the weight of the sweater that was pressing it down. A small pink nose sniffed the air near a pair of cotton pants. The sweater quivered, shook…and pounced! Tigger’s body was momentarily visible as he leapt free of the sweater to viciously attack the cotton pants. He disappeared quickly as, quarry subdued, he once again burrowed into a new hiding place. “Get out of there, you stupid animal.” Casey turned from the mirror and dug through the clothing to find the cat. Finding him she picked him up and stared him straight in the eye. “You don’t hunt clothing. You hunt mice and squirrels and birds. Got that?” Tigger just stared at her blankly. They had had this conversation many times before. Tigger seemed to feel all animals were friends to be played with while anything that belonged to Casey was the enemy and needed to be eradicated from the apartment. There were many times she had come home to find a piece of her underwear in the middle of the living room floor mangled beyond identification. The cat was a menace! But she loved him anyway. She would be the first to admit her taste in men hadn’t always been even half as good. Casey placed Tigger on the sandstone colored rug and turned to complete her dressing. He rolled over onto his back and watched her coldly; at least she thought it was coldly, it was hard to tell with him in that position. Finally, she decided that the forest green pantsuit she had on was probably the most appropriate for the day. It was classy, yet not too formal and was not too dressy for the bookstore. It was a bit smarter than her usual t-shirt and jeans but unlike a dress would still allow her to climb the shelves and do whatever needed to be done. She also liked the way it set off her emerald eyes and made her hair glow with burnished gold highlights. Looking at her bedside clock, she gave a sigh of relief. All dressed and she still had some time before she had to leave for work. She added a bit of color to her eyelids and smudged on some lipstick. She had more than enough time to grab a frappaccino from the corner Starbucks before she had to get in to open her own shop. Picking up her briefcase, she headed out to the car. Casey sipped her frappaccino blissfully as she unlocked the Reading Room door. She didn’t consider frequenting Starbucks for their iced coffees to be a conflict of interest. True, her shop also sold coffee but they weren’t set up for the iced drinks and besides it wasn’t really their main business. She usually attempted to hide the cup from Michael anyway. Not that she had a guilty conscience… but he tended to give her hell, said it was bad publicity. Sometimes she wondered who was the owner and who was the assistant around here. Her contemplation of coffees and assistants had taken her mind off her lunch date. She was almost calm by the time the first customer entered the store. That wasn’t the case a couple of hours later when, for the third time in fifteen minutes, she dropped a stack of books. “Casey, take a break or something!” Michael suggested forcefully. His ponytail swung in agitation as he stood over her, his hands on his denim-clad hips. “No, No, I’m fine.” Casey protested from her position on the floor. “You are not fine. That’s the third time you’ve dropped a stack of books. And twice you nearly spilled coffee on a customer in the reading room. I’m surprised you managed to get their order right in the first place.” Michael gestured impatiently. “I know you’re the boss, but today you’re doing more harm than good. Why don’t you go freshen up and do some paperwork or something until the big date arrives?” He reached down to help Casey up off the floor. “I am a bit of a wreck aren’t I?” Casey smiled apologetically. “OK, it’s not too busy today. I guess you’ll be alright without me.” She acquiesced, grasped his hand and straightened up off the floor. “Even if it was busy I’d do better without you than with you.” He scoffed. “If it gets too busy later, I’ll just call in that girl…Annie?” At Casey’s nod, “That we’ve used once or twice before.” “I know when I’ve been told.” Casey smiled lightly. “I’ll be right back.” Casey entered the women’s washroom at the back of the reading room. Looking at herself in the mirror she was shocked to see what a wreck she looked. She pulled out her comb, tamed her curls and re-applied her lipstick. She didn’t usually wear any makeup and found it difficult to keep herself from chewing the lipstick off all day. She’d have to watch that when she was with Andrew. His usual dates probably didn’t chew their lipstick. Or act as nervous as a schoolgirl when he came to pick them up, she scolded her reflection. But this wasn’t a normal date. At least not for her. That much was obvious from her reaction whenever he so much as looked at her. But then a normal date indicated something that happened often, and since Scott had dumped her so ruthlessly she could count on one hand…no, make that one finger, the number of dates she’d had. Casey washed and dried her hands, gave herself a last quick look in the mirror and walked out into the bookstore. He’s here! The panicked thought echoed loudly in her head as the washroom door swung shut behind her. The two men at the front of the store interrupted their conversation to glance in Casey’s direction as the slamming of the ladies room door alerted them to her approach. Michael’s face was openly smiling. Andrew’s…she couldn’t tell. It was if a wall had fallen down to hide his expression. She took a deep breath and approached the men. “Hi, Andrew.” She smiled nervously. She was sure he’d said 12:30. According to the clock over the cash desk, it was only 11:45. She smiled at him uncertainly. “Sorry I'm earlier than I said yesterday.” He apologized urbanely. “I was able to get last minute reservations at the Boat House. I meant to call but the girls were a handful this morning. Their dad is returning Saturday and the excitement level in that house is through the roof.” Andrew smiled charmingly. “Are you ready to go?” “As a matter of fact I am.” Casey smiled at him, practically forgetting Michael’s existence as he watched the two of them amusedly. “I’ll just get my coat.” “Don’t worry about me! I’ll be fine here alone!” Michael called after them as they departed. Casey gave a vague wave in his direction and walked through the door Andrew held open for her. They walked in companionable silence to the parking lot. Stopping at a metallic gold and green Jaguar, Andrew drew out his keys and unlocked the passenger door. “You look lovely today.” His breath grazed Casey’s cheek as he opened the door. “Thank you.” Casey’s voice cracked. Andrew’s hand on the small of her back as he guided her into the car was doing odd things to her libido. Her skin felt hot and tingly where the heat of his hand warmed her skin. She felt like she was in a dream and any moment Tigger would pounce on her and wake her up. She was still smiling at the thought of her cat hiding somewhere in the back seat when Andrew slid into the driver’s seat and put the key in the ignition. The car started with a roar. He turned to look at her. “What are you smiling so brightly about?” “My cat.” She answered without thinking, a small smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. He shot her a surprised glance. Feeling a little foolish she backtracked nervously. “Never mind…this is a beautiful car. Is it yours?” Andrew shot her a smilingly confused glance, put on his sunglasses and put the car in gear. “No it’s a rental. I didn’t want my sister to be put out by my borrowing hers all the time.” “It’s beautiful.” Casey said sincerely. It was a beautiful car: Leather interior, heated seats, and all sorts of extra bells and whistles. Casey didn’t know a lot about cars but knew an expensive one when she saw it. The temperature was self-regulated and there was a computer telling them which way to turn to get to the restaurant, even how to avoid the worst of the traffic. Casey had heard about this option of course but had never been in a car that had it installed. Her beat up little Escort certainly didn’t even compare. Casey commented on the computerized navigation system and it turned into a lively discussion about the pros and cons of technological improvements over the last decade. She was so engrossed in their conversation that she didn’t realize they had reached the restaurant until they pulled into a parking space. Andrew was a remarkably easy person to talk to once she got over her shyness, and as long as he didn’t get too close or touch her she could keep up her side of the conversation as well. Andrew shut off the engine. The sudden silence was deafening. Casey could feel herself get nervous again. “Ever been here before?” He asked turning in his seat to face her. “No, I don’t think I have.” She turned to look out the car window pretending to consider the question. Her heart rate went into warp drive and she started having trouble controlling her breathing. A hand reached out and Andrew wound a strand of her hair around his index finger. “You have incredible hair.” He murmured huskily, leaning closer. He removed his dark glasses with his other hand. Casey stopped breathing completely; she was mesmerized by the predatory look in his eye and the golden head bending closer. He’s going to kiss me! She felt her heart rate speed up and her hands go clammy. The blood rushing through her head was deafening as he came closer still, blotting out the sun. She felt like a deer caught in a hunter’s spotlight. Casey shut her eyes; she wet her dry lips with the tip of her tongue. Andrews kiss was warm and moist; he tasted of fresh mint mouthwash and smelled of musk, of clean fresh outdoors. The combination was heady. Casey moaned silently deep in her throat. She reached a hand out towards him and splayed one open palm on his sculpted chest. Her fingers tingled in remembrance of that first touch on the ski hill. As he slowly, almost reluctantly, pulled away from the embrace, Casey opened her eyes surprised to see she was still sitting in the car instead of floating up over the Sound. “I hope I don’t need to apologize for that little Casey.” Andrew voice was gruff. He rubbed the pad of his thumb over her full lower lip. “I thought that if I got the kiss out of the way, we’d be able to stop thinking about it and enjoy our lunch.” His laugh as he pulled away was self-mocking. “I haven’t been able to get you out of my thoughts for days. Even so, I may have underestimated your power.” He cupped her cheek in his palm. “But here is neither the time, nor the place.” Andrew tweaked her nose. “Let’s go have lunch.” He turned and opened his door. Casey was still stunned. She watched him go and tried to pull herself together. She'd been so deep she'd even forgotten to be afraid. Wow. By the time Andrew opened her door she felt a little bit more in control. She smoothed her hair and accepted the hand Andrew offered. Her confused gaze met his as he closed the door behind her. He smiled and, placing a hand on the small of her back, escorted her into the restaurant. As they left the bright sunshine behind it took Casey a few moments for her eyes to react to the comparative darkness of the building. When the formally clad Maitre d’ escorted them to their table her retinas had finally adjusted and she was able to look around her in awe. The place was unbelievable. Casey sank into the chair Andrew held out for her. Their eyes met and he smiled slightly. “What do you think?” Pulling out his own chair, he leaned back and picked up the wine list. He continued to watch her over the top of it. Now only the teasing sparkle in his eyes was visible. “It’s an incredible location, and the wood work and the fantastic decorations…. I mean just look at the size of those timbers.” Her voice was awed as she gazed above them to the rough-hewn timbers that were at least twice as big as any tree in existence today. “I had no idea this place was here.” She directed her gaze outside and, with a wave of one arm, indicated the warehouses that could barely be seen through the plate glass window. “This is the last area in town that I would expect a restaurant of this caliber to be located.” Andrew leaned forward and placed his forearms on the table. “From what I understand it’s been here for years. I believe it actually started out life as a cannery and was transformed into a restaurant when crab fishing began to dry up in this area in the mid 1900’s.” His eyes crinkled. “I wouldn’t quote me on that, if I were you. My sister was the one to share that tale with me and I’m not sure how accurate she is.” Casey smiled back. “I won’t.” She unfolded her napkin and placed it on her lap. “So…. Do you live with your sister? I don’t mean to pry but you only mentioned her address for the incident report. I mean…” Suddenly realizing how personal the question was she fumbled to a stop. “No I’m just visiting for a couple of weeks. I’m probably taking off again in a few days. Vancouver’s a great place but I’m planning a quick trip to Barbados and warm sunny beaches, before I have to get back to Chicago and work.” Disappointment shafted through Casey like a spear through armor. At least she knew now. This wouldn’t be a happily ever after scenario. He was visiting. Short term. No strings. He wouldn’t need to warn her twice. “So, you’re a Canadian living in the States.” “Mmm hmm. I’m down there on a company-sponsored green card. The company I work for is based in Chicago. At the moment I live there but that could change at any time.” He shrugged. “I get transferred around a lot, different jobs, different responsibilities. I enjoy the challenge.” “What do you do?” “I’m VP of Marketing for IEC Equipment at the moment.” He shrugged as if he’d just said he was the janitor for the local high school. “It’s a job. Long hours, lots of travel, decent pay.” “Don’t you find it hard, not being anywhere long enough to put down any roots?” Casey shook her head incomprehensively. “I’ve been here 6 years and I love it. I couldn’t imagine leaving anytime soon. Where else on earth can you ski in the morning and sail in the afternoon.” She chuckled, gazing fondly at the North Shore Mountains barely visible over the water. “Not many.” Andrew agreed dryly. “Actually I thoroughly enjoy the moving. It’s a great way to see the world and it keeps the work interesting. I deal with different people who have diverse ways of looking at things all the time. It’s fascinating.” Casey shook her head. “I see enough different people, in some cases extremely different,” she wrinkled her nose, “through my store in one day. I’d hate having to look for a new place to live every couple of years. It’s taken me all this time to finally find something in this city I’d be willing to actually purchase. It’ll be a while before I can afford the down-payment so I just have to hope the market starts getting a bit softer.” She laughed ruefully. “At the moment it’s a rental property that the owners would be more than happy to sell to anyone interested in making a reasonable offer. I just have to keep my fingers crossed and count my pennies for a while.” She held up her right hand showing him the crossed fingers. Andrew reached across the table and cupped her crossed fingers between his warm, strong hands. Casey’s heart did a little flip. “It sounds nice. Maybe we can do a drive by before I leave and you can show it to me.” His voice was casual. Casey went weak at the knees. She hadn’t dared even think about what would happen after this date. Now she had to seriously consider there may even be a second, or a third? Her blood started pumping a little faster. Then cooled quickly. He was only here for a few more days, a week or two at the most. Her feelings for him were strong already. How would she feel if she kept seeing him and then he left? Would the fire burn out naturally, or would she be picking up the shards of her broken heart and trying to pull her life together again? Andrew glanced down at their entwined hands. “I hope you can uncross these long enough to enjoy lunch.” He teased. “It might be difficult to pick up your fork otherwise.” He smiled and released her hand. “House hunting is something I really don’t have to worry about.” He continued their earlier conversation. At her questioning look he explained: “My Company organizes everything from the packing to the unpacking and everything in between. They even pick where I should live and arrange all the necessary paperwork.” The wine steward arrived with their drinks: A local microbrewery beer for Andrew and a dry white wine for Casey. “That sounds almost…cold.” Casey reproached him. She turned to smile her thanks at the wine steward. He bowed in response. “It’s just easiest.” Andrew nonchalantly shrugged his shoulders. “I’m too busy to look and I’m at home very seldom anyway, so it works out the best for everyone.” He picked up his menu. “Enough about housing problems.” He smiled at Casey as he opened to the lunch page. “Have you decided what you would like to eat? I understand the blackened catfish is delicious.” He bent his head to study the menu. Casey watched the sunlight reflect off his hair for a moment before glancing at her own menu. “Catfish?” She lifted her head, a suspicious look in her eye. “Isn’t that a type of ground-feeder? Yuck.” She wrinkled her nose delicately. “I think I’ll stick with the salmon.” Andrew’s look was affronted. “Hey, it’s a delicacy in the Midwest.” Casey’s snort was not very ladylike. “The Midwest is welcome to it.” “I’ll be sure to let them know.” Andrew’s eyes twinkled. “Are you ready to order?” At her nod, Andrew signaled for the waiter, hovering just out of Casey’s range of vision, to come over. Andrew let her order first then placed his own order and included a bottle of champagne. “To celebrate my recovery.” He smiled. At this rate she was going to be too tipsy to be any use at all at the bookstore this afternoon, she thought and then shrugged off the niggling guilt she felt. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d had a leisurely lunch, and particularly not with such an incredible man. “How are you feeling, now? You don’t seem to be suffering too many effects of the accident.” Andrew shrugged nonchalantly. “I feel great.” His smile was self-mocking. “I won’t be running any marathons soon and it still hurts a bit when I laugh, but otherwise I’m as good as new. See?” He held his arms wide. Casey got a good look at his muscular physique. She blushed and lowered her head. At this rate she’d be attacking him over the table before dessert was even served. The rest of the lunch passed in a blur. “Dessert?” Andrew inquired as she finished the last bite of her grilled salmon. “Oh no! I couldn’t, I think I’m going to pop as it is.” Casey protested, wiping her mouth with the edge of her napkin and setting it down on the table. “Besides,” She sighed, “I really have to be getting back. I’ve been gone long enough.” “Of course. I’m sorry, I wasn’t thinking. I just expect the entire world to be on holiday when I am.” He pulled out his billfold and signaled to their waiter. Casey watched as he paid the bill leaving a more than substantial tip. At least he’s not a skinflint; she smiled inwardly. She had been on dates before where her date had asked her to break a single dollar for the tip. But then, nothing about any previous dates even compared to this one. “Thank you very much for lunch,” Casey said primly as Andrew opened her car door for her. He looked at her intently for a few moments then leaned down and gave her a long, slow kiss. She was too surprised to move. Andrew lifted his head and smiled enigmatically. “You are very welcome little one.” Casey slid into her seat in a daze. She had to stop freezing up like that. If he’d just stop surprising her maybe one of these times she’d get to kiss him back. The thought made her blush hotly. She’d have to stop that too, she hadn’t blushed this much since grade school. Andrew shut her door and walked around the car to the driver’s side. Was he whistling? Casey couldn’t be sure. Casey was surprised when less than half an hour later the nearly silent Jaguar pulled up in front of the Reading Room. She’d been so engrossed in their conversation again that she hadn’t even realized they already crossed the river. Andrew turned the key and shut off the engine. Casey wasn’t quite ready to end the date. “Would you like to come in for coffee?” She asked him shyly. She looked towards the store. “I make a mean Mocha.” She smiled enticingly. “I’d love to, but I’ve really got to get back. I promised my sister I’d give her a hand this afternoon. Three kids can be extremely wearing on the nerves.” He shook his head in wonder. “I can imagine.” Casey was disappointed but tried not to show it. “I’d like to see you again.” His voice was husky, his expression guarded and a little surprised, as if the idea had taken him unaware. “I know I’m not here much longer but I’d really like to see you again this weekend. If you’re not busy of course.” Andrew reached out almost unconsciously and ran his hand over her hair. Casey leaned into the hand caressing her head. She just couldn’t seem to stop herself. “I’d like that. If the bookstore lets me go.” She found herself agreeing without conscious thought. “Thank you very much for lunch. I really had a great time.” She smiled. This time she was ready for him. When he leaned forward to kiss her, she met him halfway. The spark was instantaneous, the kiss deepened. Casey reached out her hand to pull him closer and…. A car horn blared nearby. Casey jumped back as if she’d been shot. Her eyes still cloudy with desire and her lips swollen from the kiss, she stared at Andrew in amazement. Andrew smiled in understanding. He looked towards the bookstore at the steady stream of pedestrians walking past their car. “We have terrible timing. I haven’t behaved like this since I was a teenager.” He pulled back slowly. “I’ll give you a call tomorrow about this weekend.” Casey straightened her hair and took a deep breath. “Tomorrow then.” She sounded more composed than she felt. “You can bet on it.” Andrew reached across her to open her door, “Enjoy the rest of your afternoon.” He kissed her once quickly as she turned to leave. His gaze was teasing, “I just can’t help myself.” She smiled dazedly and slid out of the car, shutting the door behind her. The car started with a roar and, with a wave, Andrew pulled away from the curb. Casey stood on the sidewalk outside the bookstore for a moment trying to get her composure back. Then, taking a deep breath she straightened her shoulders and walked purposefully into the store. The jingling of the bell went unheard. All hell had broken loose. There were customers everywhere. Books were piled on every available surface and a child cried somewhere in among the shelves. Casey took a shocked look around and saw Michael, his ponytail coming undone striding towards her purposefully. “Thank God you’re back!” He nearly hugged her. “I’ll explain later, just please help me deal with some of these customers.” He pulled off her coat and threw it on a chair near the door and then practically dragged her shocked body over towards the cash desk. Shaking her head, she quickly jumped into the melee. She was far too busy for the rest of the afternoon to even think about Andrew or the incredible time they had shared. ********** Casey leaned her head back against the headrest of the armchair, closed her eyes and stretched her arms out in front of her. Every muscle ached, her head pounded like a jackhammer against solid concrete. But, strangely enough, she had never felt quite so alive. She threw the pen she had been using to check off the days sales receipts onto the coffee table in front of her, her feet followed it to rest on top of a never-ending pile of reports and files. In the background Ella and Louis crooned over the bookstore’s loudspeakers. “Well Michael,” Casey turned her head to look at her assistant, fully reclined on the loveseat nearby. His long legs were stretched out over the armrest, his feet nearly to the floor on the other side. “Congratulations.” She picked up her cooling cup of Earl Grey and toasted him. “You have single handedly managed the busiest afternoon in the history of The Reading Room bookstore.” She smiled tiredly. “Sales are double any other day, with the exception of our grand opening. You did a fantastic job. I am so sorry I wasn’t here to help you with most of it.” Michael stirred; he raised his head and viewed Casey out of heavy lidded eyes. “Hey, all in a days work.” He dropped his head again, obviously exhausted. “I’ll expect my bonus check in the mail.” Closing his eyes, he rubbed the bridge of his nose with two fingers. Casey sat up straighter and put her feet back on the floor. She leaned over to pick up the scattered papers and started re-filing them in their proper folders. A thought hit her. “What happened to Annie?” She turned once again to inquire of Michael. “Weren’t you going to call her if it got too busy?” Her brow was wrinkled in concentration, she was sure they had discussed that on her way out this morning. “Yeah,” Michael swung his legs around and sat up. “I called her but there was no answer. Casey, we’ve really got to do something about getting more help in here.” He sounded weary but determined. “Someone reliable.” His voice was now scornful. “We can barely handle the volume between the two of us and if we ever actually wanted to have a day off once in a while…it’s just getting way too much for one person to handle.” He stood up and walked to the coffee bar. Pouring himself a mug of leftover coffee he stooped down to change the CD playing in the stereo system. “Any suggestions?” He asked over his shoulder, indicating their meager CD collection with his one free hand. “I’ve listened to ‘moonlight in Paris’ six times so far today and quite frankly and getting kinda sick of Ella Fitzgerald.” He stopped the CD that was playing and repackaged it in its case. “I have no preference,” Casey yawned. “Just nothing too headbangy ok? I’m developing a major headache.” She took another sip of her now stone cold tea and pushed her hair out of her eyes. “While you’re up would you mind getting me some more hot water?” The sounds of Alannis Morissette’s ‘Jagged Little Pill’ blared out of the ceiling speakers. Michael rose and turned to Casey inquiringly. “Hot water.” She repeated indicating her teapot. Casey rubbed her temples; Alannis was not doing great things for her headache. It really wasn’t the type of music she’d had in mind. My own fault, I suppose, for not being clearer, she closed her eyes momentarily and leaned back, resting her aching neck muscles. Michael returned with his coffee and her hot water. He placed the teapot in front of Casey and sat down in a recliner across from her. He crossed his legs. “So what do you think of my idea?” He returned to their earlier conversation. It took Casey a few moments to figure out what he was talking about. “Oh,” She finally remembered. “I think it’s something that seriously needs to be looked at.” She took a sip of her warmed tea and looked across at Michael seriously. “Do you have anyone in mind? Otherwise I guess we’ll just have to advertise somewhere.” Her brain kicked slowly into gear as she considered what they would have to do to find someone to help out. She reached for her note pad to jot down some ideas. “As a matter of fact I do.” He looked pleased with himself as he took a sip of his coffee. Casey stopped what she was doing and sat back to look at him more directly. “You do? When did this happen?” “Actually a girl came in early today to apply.” He smiled. “She’s cute too. Unfortunately it was before the rush started or I might have given her a trial run.” His tone was rueful. “I hope she had more to recommend her than just that she’s cute.” Casey’s voice was just a little sharp. The music was really starting to bother her head. Did they really play this CD during the day? She was surprised more customers didn’t complain. It wasn’t exactly full of happy songs. Rising from her chair, she walked over to turn down the volume. “Of course not,” Michael sounded hurt, and maybe a bit defensive. “She dropped off her C.V. It looks pretty good.” He reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a folded piece of paper. He held it out to Casey. “Here, read it over for yourself. If you think she’s got what it takes we can schedule an interview for tomorrow.” Casey walked over and took the paper. Unfolding it she smoothed it against the table and placed it in one of her file folders. “I’ll look at it at home tonight.” She rubbed her hand across her eyes. “I’m beat.” She reached out a hand to help Michael off the chair. “Come on, old man, let’s close this place up and go home.” Michael looked at his watch then, placing his hand in Casey’s, he allowed himself to be pulled up. “I guess you’re right.” He agreed. He removed the elastic band holding his ponytail then running his hands back over his hair he expertly pulled all the loose strands together and re-bound them. “It’s nearly six already. We’re going to have another long day tomorrow.” He walked off in the direction of the cash desk. “I’ll clean up the cash desk if you want to clean up the coffee area.” He called over his shoulder. Casey stuck her tongue out at his back. He knew how much she hated that part of the close up ritual, although as he’d done it for the last two nights in a row, she really shouldn’t complain. She shrugged her tired shoulders and started washing mugs. CHAPTER EIGHT Casey stared up at the ceiling. Eight, nine, ten, she counted the cracks in the plaster, Twelve, Thirteen, Fourteen. Finally giving it up as a waste of time she pushed the blankets aside and climbed out of bed. Tigger watched her suspiciously. Giving the cat an off-handed pat, she stumbled through the dark to the kitchen. One hand fumbled clumsily for the switch. The sudden blinding light surprised her and she squinted until her eyes were no more than tiny slits. Looking through the protective barrier of her eyelashes she glanced at the clock on the wall above the refrigerator. It was 11:55. Too late to be up, but sleep was proving elusive tonight, too many thoughts floated through her mind. Casey stumbled to the fridge and pulled out a half empty liter of milk, then grabbed a handful of cookies from the blue glass cookie jar next to the stove and plunked herself down at the table. She saluted the poster of Mount Snowcap decorating the wall opposite her and took a long swig directly out of the milk carton. Why couldn’t life ever be simple? It wasn’t a difficult concept. Work, play, meet a nice man, fall in love and live happily-ever-after. It worked for millions of women everyday. Why not her? She took a big bite out of one of the chocolate chip cookies. Because you always pick the wrong man, a little voice in her head mocked. With a groan Casey let herself fall forward until her head was resting on the smooth wood of the tabletop. It wasn’t fair. She wailed to herself as she chewed her cookie. Somehow just over lunch Andrew had managed to become firmly embedded under her skin. He was handsome, charming, fun to be with, funny and warm… as perfect as any girl could want. So, what was the problem? Everything. Scott had also been handsome and charming and fun. He had also been a liar and a cheat. She had only found out when it was nearly too late. And she had been burned…. Badly. Sometimes the pain was still as fresh as the day he walked out; back to the wife she hadn’t even known he had. Sometimes her anger more than compensated. Occasionally, and more often this month, than last month, or the month before, she didn’t think about him at all. But she didn’t like being taken for a fool. Now… Andrew. She had no idea where it was going to go but already the attraction was becoming more than she had ever expected. Straightening in her chair, she took a gulp of cold milk to wash down the cookie and laughed at herself. Not that attraction was a bad thing…. But he didn’t live here, he didn’t even live anywhere really. And had already warned her quite clearly that he wasn’t going to stay. Was she a strong enough person to enjoy the time they had together and say ‘Thanks, it was fun’ when it ended? Because it would end. That was something she could guarantee. She couldn’t follow him, even if he asked. She bit into another cookie contemplatively. It wasn’t that she was completely averse to playing with matches… Andrew could turn even the most cautious individual into a pyromaniac, but she’d have to be careful. She’d have to make sure he didn’t get too close. That might be easier said than done. Casey sighed. The best thing to do was just take one day at a time and have as much fun as possible. No use worrying about the future before it occurred. Maybe he’d end up being a self-centered jerk that hates kids and kittens. Maybe this time she could enjoy a relationship without getting hurt in the process. Yeah, and maybe the moon really is made of blue cheese. Besides, she was going to be too busy with the bookstore to see much of him anyway. He’d be gone before she knew it, and the memory of their time together would be relegated to just another one of those life files that would shape the way she looked at any other man who came across her path later. Somehow she had the feeling that any other man would have a hard time living up to this particular memory. With a tired sigh, Casey gulped back the last of the milk, finished off her cookies and returned to bed. Tigger had taken the opportunity of her absence to burrow onto her side of the bed. His body was under the covers and only the tips of his ears showed on the pillow. Throwing back the covers, Casey grabbed the cat and deposited him on his blanket at the end of the bed. Tigger hissed and arched his back at her as she reclaimed her space. “Same to you, you nasty fur-ball.” She retorted fondly. She reached down and scratched him between the ears. Tigger collapsed in a heap of purring cat flesh. “You big faker.” Casey laughed. Pulling her comforter up over her chin she fell into a deep sleep, a smile appearing as she dreamt of Andrew and the weeks ahead. ********** Stretching her shoulders to ease the ache building, Casey leaned back in her desk chair and rubbed the tiny ache in her temples. Filing sucked. But at least today she’d finally had the time to get working on it. The early morning interview with Gail Woods, the girl Michael had suggested, had gone extremely well, even better than Casey could have hoped. Gail was young, bright and so full of energy that she made Casey feel old and tired just watching her, but she was wonderful with the children and treated each customer as if their question was the most important one she had ever heard. They had hired her on the spot. Casey felt as if a huge weight had been lifted from her shoulders, although maybe they should have hired someone to file instead. With a last circular rub to the still sore temple she leaned forward and started sorting through the huge backlog of paperwork once again. “Boo!” Michael’s head appeared around the side of the half-opened office door. Casey looked up, a bit dazed from concentrating for so long. “Hey, Mike.” She smiled foggily. “Do you need me out there?” Michael came farther into the room and perched on the edge of her desk. “Nope, everything is going AOK boss.” He gave her a thumbs-up sign and smiled cockily. “So…. what do you think?” “About what?” Casey’s brow furrowed as she tried to make sense of the oddly worded document she was trying to file. “About Gail, of course! Earth to Casey.” A hand was waved in front of her eyes. “Sorry Mike.” She put down the form and leaned back in the chair. “You were right, she’s perfect.” Casey smiled slightly. “Can I pick ’em, or what?” He puffed his chest out mock-proudly. “You certainly can.” Laughing at his grandstanding, she deflated his chest with her index finger. “Speaking of members of the opposite sex…” “Hmmm?” Her attention was already back on the document. “I didn’t get around to asking you yesterday how the date went.” Michael waggled his eyebrows at her suggestively. Lowering the document, Casey smiled archly. “As a matter of fact it went extremely well.” She blushed, smiling. “He’s supposed to call me today about plans for the weekend as a matter of fact.” “Well, Well, Well…Sounds like it could get serious.” “As serious as any relationship can get when one party lives in Chicago and one lives in Vancouver.” Casey retorted realistically. “I’m just going to take one day at a time. Which reminds me,” She rocked back further in the chair, it’s springs protesting with a squeak. “I’m sure you won’t mind training Gail this week. I’m planning to be taking a day or two off.” Her smile was coy. “I’m sure I can handle it boss.” Michael agreed quickly. “You deserve it. Just be careful OK,” His expression was completely serious now. “Don’t let him hurt you.” “I’m a big girl, Mike.” She smiled to soften her rebuke. “But, thanks, I appreciate the concern.” Michael stood up and opened the office door. “Well, remember, if he ever needs a beating, just give me a call.” The phones shrill ring echoed through the room. “I’m sure I won’t. Now scat, that’ll be him.” Casey shooed him out of the room. “Oh, before you go, do you know where to file this?” Michael took one quick look at the document and opening the L drawer plopped it in under Leases-store. “Thanks, hotshot,” Casey’s voice was dry as the telephone shrilled for the third time. “Now leave.” Michael gave her a two-finger salute and walked out the door, closing it behind him. A deep breath, a quick wipe of her suddenly damp hands on her denim jeans and she was ready. Her voice was only a little breathless. “Hello…?” “Casey.” The voice on the other end of the line was masculine, smooth and abrupt. And Casey felt an inexplicable frisson of fear. “Scott.” She responded coolly. “What can I do for you?” She was proud of the cool tone, the even timber. She would not let him know how much just hearing his voice affected her. He’d enjoy the power he felt that gave him over her. She’d learned that about him, but much, much too late. “I’ve missed you baby-doll.” Scott’s voice dripped honey. “I thought we could get together, have dinner and drinks. For old time’s sake.” “How’s your wife?” She didn’t answer his question. His voice chilled. “She’s fine. What does she have to do with two friends getting together for a bit of reminiscing?” “I would think everything.” “Come on babe. I know I should have told you about her before we hooked up, but I explained about that…” “Scott, I’m not interested. You are a liar and a cheat and I have no interest in going to dinner with you. Ever. Why is that so hard for you to understand? Just please stop calling me.” “You’re just playing hard to get.” Oh my God, was the man totally obtuse? Casey pulled the phone from her ear to look at the receiver as if she could see the man on the other end. What an idiot. And to think she had thought herself in love with him at one time. “Scott, I have to go. I’m seeing someone. Do. Not. Call. Me. Again. I’m not interested.” She intoned, and hung up the phone before he could reply. For long moments Casey just sat there. Placing the phone on it’s charger she laid her head on her desk and sighed deeply. She didn’t want to be, but she felt….something. She just couldn’t explain what. Scott was rich, powerful, and not a man to take no for an answer. She’d thought those traits were romantic and exciting when she’d first met him and he’d pursued her relentlessly. But that soon changed. She thought that part of her life was over when his wife had found out about her, the “other woman”. God, how that still burned. And to find out the way she had….. She stood quickly, almost knocking over her chair in the process. She’d hoped it was all over. After his wife had found out he’d stopped coming around and stopped calling soon after. Why again now? She took a deep breathe and walked out into the book store. She needed the distraction of work, something, anything, to get him out of her head. Mikey smiled as she approached but it soon changed to a frown when he saw her expression. “What’s wrong?” “It was Scott.” That was all she had to say. Mike’s eyes frosted over, the planes of his face went taught. His anger was palpable. “What the fuck….” “Mike!” Casey’s voice was reproachful as she glanced around to make sure none of the patrons had heard. That kind of language wasn’t good for business. “I’m Ok. I told him to leave me alone and hung up. I’m sure that’ll be the end of it.” “Are you OK?” He placed a hand on her arm. Mike had been with her when the whole sordid mess went down a year ago. He knew everything. “I’m a bit shaken, but I’ll be fine.” She tried to smile. At his disbelieving look: “I mean it. Really.” She gave up the sorry attempt of a smile. He was obviously not convinced, but held his tongue. “I’m here if you need anything.” “I know, and I appreciate it.” Casey said and turned away to make a coffee. She turned back almost instantly. “There is one thing you can do.” Her voice wavered only slightly. “Name it.” “Would you mind answering the phone for the next few days? I don’t think I can handle talking to him again.” “Of course.” “Thanks Mikey, you’re the best.” She turned back to make her coffee, her hands only shaking slightly. Mike watched her for a moment with concern, but was called away by a client wanting to make a sale. He’d be sure to watch her. Scott was a creep, and a jerk and Mike had always felt that there was a deeper layer of pure evil in him. He hadn’t trusted him from the beginning, but he’d seemed to make Casey so happy, until… he shook off the memories and rung up the sale. Hopefully Scott would listen to Casey and leave her alone, but just in case he’d do whatever he needed to, to keep her safe. Mike had just finished up the sale process when the phone rang again. He glanced once at Casey who had tensed automatically and looked over with a fearful light in her eye. She visibly relaxed when she heard the welcoming sound of his voice. Casey watched as Mike smiled and sent her a thumb up. He placed the phone against his chest and mouthed “It’s Andrew.” She felt all of the tension melt from her body. “I’ll take it in the office.” She smiled as Mike told the man on the other end that she’d just be a minute. She clasped his hand briefly as she walked by and sent him a ‘thank you’ glance. Closing the office door behind her once again, she sat back in her chair, took a deep breath and picked up the extension. “Hello, Casey here.” She smiled, her tension from her earlier call fading even further. ********** “Hi, Casey, Andrew here.” Andrew reclined his lean frame against the back of the deck swing. Sweaty and covered in mud, he relaxed on the outdoor patio, enjoying a beer and soaking in some sun. He had removed his shirt, dirt-encrusted from a long bike ride through the University of British Columbia endowment lands, and was clad only in skintight biking shorts that emphasized his muscled thighs. His stomach muscles rippled as he pushed one leg off the patio stones and set the swing in motion. The motion of his bike today as he’d bounced over rocks and sticks had bothered his broken rib, but not enough to keep him from going. His time here was too short to waste it sitting around. A couple of Tylenol later and he’d be fine. “How are you?” He continued; his voice soft. “I’m doing really well.” Casey’s slightly nervous voice floated over the lines. “Business is booming. We hired a new girl today to take up a bit of the slack. She’s working out really well so far.” Her voice was sexy, even distorted as it was by the phone lines. “That’s great.” Andrew enthused playfully, “now you’ll have a bit more free time to spend with me.” “I don’t know about that…” She laughed lightly; regret coloring her voice. A strong desire to see her face washed over him. He reacted before he could analyze it. “Casey, as much as I love hearing your voice. I’d much rather see you in person.” Andrew sat up straight in the swing and stopped its motion with one bare foot. “The kids are out at a pool party sleepover so I’m not needed here for the rest of the evening. How’d you like to go for dinner with me tonight?” “I’d love to but…” She started to protest but he cut her off. “Don’t worry; nothing fancy. I’ll pick you up right from the store. Say five o’clock?” “I really have too much paperwork…It’s been a tough day and I’m not sure I’ll be very good company…” She wanted to though, oh how she really wanted to, but the spark of unease Scott had put in her still hadn’t completely vanished. It wasn’t fair to pull Andrew into her mess. No matter how much she was attracted to him. “Come on, you wouldn’t make a poor lonely man eat alone, would you?” “You don’t give up easily do you?” Casey’s voice was tinged with amusement. “Nope. So you might as well give in gracefully.” “How can I refuse such an offer? And I won’t even have to cook?” “Not a bite.” “Well, that cuts it. Dinner with you, or Mac and Cheese with my cat? Hmm? Ok, you win. But make it six.” “Great. I’ll see you then.” He ended the conversation and hung up the mobile phone. Holding the phone loosely in one hand, he leaned back against the cushions and started the swing rocking. The cold beer soothed his throat as he took a long swig. Andrew stared up at the clouds contemplatively. He was attracted. No doubt about that. But the intensity surprised him. It wasn’t normal; it was too quick and too strong. But the truth was he just couldn’t get her out of his head and had tossed and turned all night just thinking about her. She was cute and funny and a successful businesswoman, not to mention sexy as hell. And yet was so different from the Wall Street and lawyer types he was used to dating. There was something about her that made him want to learn more. He must have sustained some brain damage during his fall to be so tied in knots over such a quiet down to earth, unsophisticated woman. But if that were the case he was pretty darn sure he didn't want to be cured. Finishing off his beer, he crumpled the can in one hand. All he could do, he thought, stopping the swing once again, was hope that in the next two weeks he’d be able to get her out of his system, or the trip back to Chicago was going to be strangely difficult. With one lithe movement, he stood up and walked towards the house to shower and change. ********** Casey continued to stare at the phone long after Andrew had hung up. Her life was in such turmoil right now. But no matter how unfair she felt it was to start dating Andrew when she had unresolved issues lurking in the shadows, she just couldn’t say no. Right now he, and her store, were bright spots, and she needed all the bright spots she could use. CHAPTER NINE At exactly five minutes after six Andrew’s Jaguar purred to a stop in front of the Reading Room bookstore. Casey met the car at the curb, and before Andrew could do more than turn the key off, she was leaning down to smile in the passenger window. Andrew turned and, with a smile of his own, leaned over to open the door from the inside. “Hi.” Casey’s smile widened as she slid into the passenger seat and attached her seatbelt snugly around her hips. “You’re late.” She crossed her arms and leaned back against the passenger door. She tried to look stern, but couldn’t keep her lips from twitching upward. Andrew sputtered, and then laughed, a deep hearty laugh. The laugh stopped abruptly and the wide answering smile turned to a wince. He put a hand over his rib cage. Casey leaned forward in concern and put one hand on his strong shoulder. “Oh shoot, it’s your rib isn’t it? I forgot all about it. I am so sorry.” Andrew waved away her concern. “Don’t be sorry, it’s good to laugh.” His smile was just a bit rueful. “I just keep forgetting that I’m not completely healed. I probably overdid it today.” “Well, I should remember, I’m the one who got you taped up.” “Actually the other guy did that.” Andrew smiled at her. “But I’m sure you would have done a great job too.” Casey flashed him a miffed look. “Don’t be patronizing.” Andrew, still smiling, turned to restart the car. “Then don’t be a worry wart.” As it purred to life Casey caught the quick amused glance he risked in her direction. She smiled and shook her head. “So what did you do today that you shouldn’t have?” She asked as she settled herself back into her seat. “It’s probably better if I don’t share that with you.” “That bad, eh?” “Bad enough.” He paused as if contemplating how much to share, “I went biking through the endowment lands.” Casey turned her head slowly in his direction, eyes wide. “Funny, you don’t look quite that….” “Stupid,” He laughed, “Yeah, I know.” Casey just shook her head, “It’s a good sign that you are comfortable admitting your faults.” She said primly. Andrew’s chuckle was more subdued this time. “I would have come in to get you, you know. You didn’t need to wait for me on the street corner.” He mocked her lightly. Casey smiled and ran a hand through her tousled mane. “It isn’t very often that I get to skip clean up. I was afraid if I stayed inside any longer I’d get pulled into doing some important job when all I really wanted to do was get out and spend the evening with you.” She put her head back against the headrest. Without warning, Andrew leaned over and gave her a quick kiss. “You are great.” He smiled into her eyes. Casey sent him a bemused look and couldn’t stop the rush of warmth that tinged her cheeks, “Thanks….” she stopped, suddenly tongue tied, and turned to look out the windshield. She cleared her throat as unobtrusively as possible. “So, where are you taking me?” She turned the conversation to safer topics. Andrew signalled and pulled out into traffic. “It’s a surprise. Just hang on and enjoy the ride.” His instruction sounded pretty easy to follow as far as Casey was concerned. She was determined to follow it to a T. Soon the golden Jaguar was roaring along the winding Sea to Sky highway. “Are we going to Whistler?” Casey suggested the ski resort located in the middle of the Coastal Mountains of BC. What other destination could he possible have in mind? “You’ll see.” Andrew flashed her a devilish smile, then turned his attention back to the road. She should have taken the time to change. Her denim jeans and white blouse were perfectly respectable for what she thought would be a casual pub dinner, but not what she liked to wear for a dinner in a fancy restaurant. Glancing over at Andrew’s rugged profile, she shrugged. If he didn’t care, then why should she? Relaxing again she allowed herself to enjoy the ride. Casey watched the landscape soar by. The majestic trees, their boughs flapping lazily in the wind, lined the highway like regal courtesans waving their admittance to a private court. The awe-inspiring surf crashed against the cliffs far below them. An occasional harbour seal could be seen body surfing on the waves only to leap off at the last moment and disappear beneath the tumbling foam. In the distance a killer whale paddled quietly in search of its dinner and a bald eagle circled high above waiting for the perfect moment to pounce on some unsuspecting prey. Opening her window a crack, Casey breathed deeply. The tangy combination of fresh salty air and wet pine needles did more for her frazzled nerves than any doctor prescribed medication. She turned to smile lazily at Andrew, “This was a great idea.” She inhaled deeply, “I love the smell of the ocean, don’t you?” Without waiting for an answer she turned back to continue her enjoyment of the view. “Then you’re really going to love our destination.” Casey shot him a sharp glance. That didn’t sound like a restaurant in the bustling ski town. “Where are you taking me?” “I told you, it’s a secret. We’re nearly there.” His lips were twisted in a grin. They passed a sign indicating 10 kilometres to Squamish. Casey was confused. What was between here and that little logging town? She racked her brain but couldn’t come up with a suggestion. Moments later Andrew slowed the car and turned between two stone pillars that marked the entrance to the exclusive community of Hunter’s Bay. Casey had forgotten about this area. Not surprisingly, other than a small tasteful sign along the highway, there was nothing to advertise its existence. The jaguar purred effortlessly along the gravel path that wound its way up the side of the cliff. Casey watched out the window in awe. Hunter’s Bay was obviously a rich man’s playground. It was probably close enough to Vancouver to be easily accessible for overnight jaunts or a weekend getaway, maybe even for the occasional commute. But was far enough out of the hustle and bustle to be considered ‘in the country’. Not that the homes here were Casey’s idea of your typical weekend cottage. Most of the properties were at least two acres; in some cases they looked to be three or more. Each property was a perfectly landscaped forest. Artistically arranged trees and shrubs were a perfect privacy screen from prying neighbours’ eyes. It would probably be possible to sunbathe nude on any section of one of the lawns and still not be seen by a neighbour. Casey blushed at the pictures that thought invoked. The sky was nearly visible through the treetops when they finally turned into a driveway. Slowly navigating the steep drive up what was little more than a well-kept dirt track, Andrew was silent; Casey's attention was focused on their destination barely visible as brief, teasing glances of something grand through the trees. As the car rolled to a stop in front of the most incredible home…Mansion… she had ever seen, Casey couldn’t hold back a gasp. The building was gorgeous. Sided entirely in stone, it sported large leaded glass windows and a covered walkway extending to the driveway. A climbing vine planted around its base was nearly hiding the 3-car garage set off to one side. The effect was as if the house had been there forever, an Elizabethan masterpiece forgotten from some place in time. Not completely forgotten. Someone was obviously looking after the landscaping. The flower gardens strewn haphazardly around the front yard exploded with the color of early spring flowers: Tulips, daffodils, and something she thought might be crocuses. No weeds interfered with its perfect symmetry and studied disarray. It was nature at its best. Seemingly natural, obviously cultivated. Casey looked at Andrew in awe as he pulled three full grocery bags from the Jaguar’s trunk. “Who owns this place?” She stepped out of the low sports car, hardly realizing she had moved, and spun around slowly to view the entire yard. The sweet smell of blooming flowers assailed her senses. “A really good friend. He hardly ever uses it… lives in California now. When he heard I was visiting Vancouver he offered me the use of it.” He closed the trunk with one hand and juggled the grocery bags into a more comfortable position. “I chose to stay with my sister while her husband was away but as Kevin’s returning in a day or two, I’ll probably move in here for the next couple of weeks.” He started off in the direction of the house. Smiling back at her, he interrupted her awed contemplation of their surroundings. “Coming? You think this is good, just wait until you see the back of the house.” Andrew unlocked the front door and stood aside to allow Casey to precede him into the hallway. Casey stepped in through the open doorway and was surprised nearly speechless. Again. Hallway was probably not the correct way to describe the room the front door opened into: Great Hall, Foyer or even football field would have painted a more accurate picture. A magnificent leaded glass dome crowned the cathedral ceiling. The waning evening light pouring through it was shattered into millions of tiny rainbows that danced on the whitewashed walls. A carved oak stairway wound around the left side of the room, hugging the wall until it became part of the open gallery that encircled the entire room. “The doors up there each lead to a suite. There are seven in all and each suite has a private whirlpool bath and sitting room.” Casey was silent as the information slowly penetrated her numbed brain. Who could possibly need so many rooms? It looked more like a hotel than a home. Still dazed, Casey allowed Andrew to lead her across the oak floor with its incredible mahogany and cherry inlay towards the back of the house. They passed two arched doorways and a small door. The archway on the left at the foot of the stairs led into the formal dining room. It boasted an incredible antique cherry dining set big enough to seat the entire Vancouver Canuck’s hockey team. The archway on the right led into a beautiful formal living room, also decorated completely in antiques. The smaller door situated farther down the wall past the living room was locked. “That’s Ted’s office. He still keeps some files here. Nothing really important,” He assured her at her questioning look. “But, he’d rather not have it available for just anyone to go through. Of course he’s also got a lot of expensive computer equipment, and more security is better as far as insurance companies go. Not that they drop the premiums any.” Andrew muttered the last part under his breath, obviously remembering a not so pleasant conversation with his own insurance adjuster. “I guess his insurance is a lot more than the twenty dollars a month I pay.” Andrew smiled lazily at her. “I guess his insurance is more than your annual rent.” “Touché” The front hall ended in the largest kitchen/family room Casey had ever seen. It was big enough to put at least two apartments the size of hers in and still have space left over for a friendly game of softball. While Andrew put away the groceries, Casey explored. The back wall was what drew her attention. It was entirely made of glass! Nearly seamless, it spanned the entire length of the house and looked directly west out over the setting sun reflecting off the ocean far below. Perched as it was on a bluff above the other homes in the area, there was almost nothing in the way to impair the view. “This place is incredible!” Casey exclaimed as she walked down the two steps into the family room, her feet sinking into the thick cream-colored carpet. A fire blazed in the huge stone fireplace at the far end of the room. “Did someone know we were coming?” She turned to ask Andrew. Indicating the fireplace. He was right behind her. Handing her a chilled glass of sparkling wine he noted the direction of her gaze. “The groundskeeper knew I was coming. The fireplace is gas; all it required was a flick of the switch. ” He smiled down at her still dazed expression. “To an incredible two weeks.” He raised his glass in a toast. Casey raised her glass to his and paused as his words sunk in. "So, does this mean you're sticking around for a while?" She had to ask. "I thought you'd said you were planning to leave in a few days?" She found herself holding her breath waiting for his confirmation. "Change of plans." Andrew smiled over his glass. "I've got a couple more weeks vacation and I'm finding that I'm enjoying this area more than I thought I would. The company's pretty nice too." His voice turned serious. "I like you Casey, and I find myself wanting to spend a bit more time with you, get to know you a bit better. Besides," He smiled again. "What does Barbados have that I can't find in B.C.?" "A couple dozen degrees of heat?" Was her laconic response, but inwardly she was doing cartwheels. He wasn't leaving. He wanted to spend more time with her. Two weeks. She had to remember that was all she had. Only two weeks. Nervously, she took a quick sip of the wine. Andrew’s bright blue eyes darkened as he watched her lick a tiny drop of moisture from her bottom lip. Desire swirled in their depths. Casey caught her breath, captivated by the intensity of his gaze. With a quickly indrawn breath, Andrew turned back towards the kitchen. “Why don’t you go out on the patio and take a look around while I make us some dinner. I hope you like barbeque, I’m afraid that’s all I can make.” He called back over his shoulder. “Steaks and salad work for you?” “Sounds great.” Casey said weakly taking a gulp of her drink. "Are you sure there's nothing I can do to help?" She asked, following him into the commercial grade kitchen. "Not this time. You're my guest and I have everything under control. Besides you're too distracting. I might burn the steaks." He grinned over his shoulder as he pulled a couple of T-bones out of the huge stainless steel fridge. Casey could totally relate. She wanted his kiss so badly she could taste it. "I can't argue with that." She laughed and with a deep breath to control her overactive imagination she turned quickly and easily located the latch for the sliding door. Closing the door behind her with a small click, she crossed over to lean against a low stone wall that seemed to be the only thing between her and the/ ocean thousands of feet below. What would it be like to live like this everyday, to consider it the norm? She couldn't imagine. She thought about the people who owned it. Did they still revel in the splendour of the location? Stand in awe at the overwhelming view? Appreciate their good fortune, and be thankful every day for the opportunity to enjoy this lifestyle? Or was it no more to them than Casey's apartment was to her, just a comfortable place to call home, a place to sleep and work and eat, and nothing more? The idea made her sad and she decided right then that, as soon as she won the lottery, she wouldn't take any of those things she dreamed of someday having for granted. She laughed softly. As that was next to impossible maybe she'd just try to not take for granted the things she already had. She turned her attention back to the view and eagerly watched for signs of wildlife moving through the rushing surf. Lost in her enjoyment of the scenery she was surprised when nearly half an hour later Andrew appeared next to her. “Supper’s ready.” He smiled down at her and fitting his hand to the arch in the small of her back, escorted her into the house. A small wrought iron table had been placed at the top of the steps leading from the family room. Andrew had decorated it with sparkling crystal and crisp linens. It looked cozy and inviting. In the soft light of the fading sun a dozen small candles flickered around the room like lost fireflies. The effect was incredibly romantic. Casey’s heart started pounding so hard she was sure that he could hear it. Too bad she couldn't tell if it was anticipation or fear. At least then she'd know whether her body was telling her to sit and enjoy, or run for her life. Striding into the kitchen Andrew grabbed the two steaming plates that waited under heat lamps. Walking back towards the table he gestured for Casey to have a seat, taking the decision out of her hands. “Would you like another glass of white or would you prefer red with your meal?” His voice was light. “More white please.” Casey sat herself down and smoothed one of the beautiful linen cloths over her lap, her heart rate reaching a more normal rhythm once again. Andrew poured them both more wine and sat himself down across from her, the setting sun glowed red and orange and pink as he raised his fork. The dinner he had prepared was delicious. The steaks were perfectly grilled and the salad crisp and fresh. Andrew was the perfect host, putting her at ease immediately. “So tell me about your bookstore. How did you end up as an entrepreneur bookstore owner in North Vancouver, Canada?” Casey was surprised. “What would you like to know?” “Everything.” “It’ll take a while.” She cautioned laughing. Andrew just smiled. “We have all night.” Casey smiled back. “So we do. Well it all started about six years ago. I grew up an army brat, travelling all over the world with my family, from one post to the next. It was fun, interesting. I saw a lot of the world." She smiled remembering, but Andrew didn't miss the quick shadow that crossed her expression. It hadn't been all fun for her. "We finally settled down in a small town outside of Ottawa, but even though we were there for more years than we'd been anywhere else I still didn't feel at home, settled. "Her brow wrinkled as she though about it. "It was odd. I was with my family, we'd finally stopped moving and I should have been happy, but something was missing." She chewed contemplatively and shrugged. "That's when I packed up my little car and headed west. I ended up here." She laughed, well not here, here." She waved her fork to indicate the house, but North Van. And here I stayed. I got work in a local bookstore, joined the patrol, saved money, got a second job, saved more money. When the bookstore I was working in went up for sale I had my sister, who's an accountant by the way, help me with projections and a business plan, put in an application for a loan, made an offer and voila!" She smiled. "I was the proud owner of a rundown retail outlet in the heart of North Van, with more debt over my head than I ever in my life imagined I could hold." She shook her head. "It's been tough some times but fun. I love my little store, and have finally found a place I feel like I'm home." Casey looked down at her plate surprised to see that she'd finished her meal. She looked up, eyes wide. "Oh my gosh, why didn't you shut me up? I can't believe I just rambled like that for so long. The steak was incredible by the way." She smiled sheepishly. Andrew reached over and covered her hand with his, giving it a quick squeeze. "No apology needed. I was interested. It's quite the story. You love that store." It wasn't a question. "I do. I've put a lot of work into it, a lot of myself." Andrew refilled her wine glass and she took a small sip. "Last year I hired Mikey, he's been indispensable, has lots of great ideas on how to improve things, attract more customers….we've got a good partnership going now. I'm thinking of bringing him on as a legal partner and making it official." Her grin flashed briefly, "but I'm having a hard time giving any of it up yet." "I don't blame you. It's hard to just hand off something you've built yourself and move on. Finished?" He asked indicating her empty plate. "Oh yes," She dabbed her lips with the napkin and placed it on her plate. "It was absolutely delicious. Thank you." Andrew smiled. "Anytime." He said, and Casey couldn't help but wish that he really meant it. Andrew quickly cleared the table and disappeared into the kitchen. He reappeared with a delicious looking fruit salad served in sparkling cut glass bowls for dessert. Or at least Casey hoped they were cut glass. Just her luck they'd be crystal and she'd drop it for sure. “What, no German chocolate cake? Trifle? Crème Brule?” Casey was mock-affronted. “Nope.” Andrew patted his trim waist. “Watching my weight…” He pulled a can from behind his back. “Whipped cream?” Casey giggled; she didn’t remember having so much fun in a long, long time. “I would love some.” Andrew obligingly sprayed a healthy dollop of the canned foam onto her salad. Picking up a dab of the heavy, sweet cream on her dainty dessert spoon she licked it off slowly, closing her eyes and savouring the taste of the sweet rich topping melt on her tongue. Opening her eyes slowly she looked straight into Andrew’s heavy lidded gaze as he watched her lick the last of the cream from the small utensil. She blushed, suddenly realizing what she'd done. It hadn't been her intention to…..she tried to think of something to direct his attention elsewhere. "Ok, your turn." The look Andrew turned on her was dazed. “What?” Casey took a huge spoonful of fruit and chewed energetically. She swallowed. “Tell me about you, now. Your family, your work…everything.” Andrew blinked and smiled. The look he gave her told her he wasn't going to forget the thoughts she'd put into his head, but he could wait. “Everything, eh? Not much to tell. I was born thirty-four years ago in rural Alberta, both parents are still living, my sister lives in Point Grey and I have a brother who has a ranch near Lethbridge. I had wanderlust for years, so when I applied to Harvard and got in on a scholarship I jumped at the chance. I ended up with a job in management in a huge construction equipment firm in Chicago and worked my way through the ranks. Now I just have to decide whether or not to take this promotion I've been offered. It’s a fantastic opportunity but…" He looked pensive for a minute but shook it off quickly. "I haven't decided yet what I'm going to do. I thought it was the culmination of all of my years of studying and working, and now I'm not even sure I want it." He popped a grape into his mouth. "Funny how sometimes you can work and work for what you want so badly, only to find out when you get it that it really wasn't what you wanted at all." Casey considered that for a moment. "Maybe it's the thrill of the chase you enjoy. Not so much the catching." Andrew looked at her quizzically. "Interesting observation. I hadn't really considered that." He shrugged. "Something to think about I guess." Casey shook off the strange pain that coursed through her when he mentioned his job in Chicago. He’s not from here; remember? This is just a temporary fling and it will end. Keep repeating that to yourself and you’ll be fine. Andrew’s voice intruded on her thoughts. “Why are you so determined to get that cottage you talked about at lunch the other day?” The expression on his face was intensely curious as he finished his last bite of fruit and put down his spoon. “There is so much of the world out there to see. Don’t you want to do more exploring before you settle down?” “I’ve explored all I really want to at this point in my life.” She took a healthy sip of her third glass of wine, feeling very mellow. “Any other traveling I do will be with the knowledge that a home waits for me to come back to.” That cloud passed back over her expression. “My Dad was an army officer. I was an army brat for the first sixteen years of my life. I don’t think we stayed anywhere more than two years while I was growing up and I’d like any kids I have to grow up with roots, to know the same children all their lives, to have best friends” “It sounds like you had a sad childhood.” Andrew leaned back in his chair. “Oh, don’t get me wrong, it was exciting.” She swirled the dregs of her drink around her glass. “I got to see all sorts of places: Italy, Germany, all of Canada, Britain. I just never really made a lot of close friends.” She smiled ruefully. “More acquaintances than I can count but no real close friends. “I guess that’s why I love the job I have.” Andrew looked pensive. “Growing up in a small Alberta farming community all my life made me determined to see as much of the world as I could when I was older. I love the work I do and the places it takes me to. It can be very exciting.” “We’re very different aren’t we?” “Differences can be a good thing.” Andrew took Casey’s hand in his and raised her knuckles to his lips. “They can make life more exciting.” Casey looked at him uncertainly. Even the most intense excitement couldn’t make up for all their differences. She shook off her doubts, determined to enjoy as much of his time here as she could. Andrew pushed back his chair and started gathering their empty dessert dishes. “Time to clean up. Why don’t you make yourself comfortable? I’ll bring you a liqueur.” He banished Casey to the family room. Not one to argue over clean up duty Casey requested a Bailey’s and chose a spot on one of the huge overstuffed couches nearest the fireplace. It faced the hearth but was still angled enough to be able to watch the flickering stars through the window. Casey was startled when the lights were suddenly extinguished. Andrew moved slowly around the room lighting candles. He turned the stereo on and picked some slow romantic music she didn't recognize. With a sigh she forced herself to relax and stretched her legs out onto the leather footrest that matched her couch. She sunk so far back into the cushions that she was afraid she would never be able to get up. The room wasn’t completely dark: The fire lent a warm glow over the room, and the twinkling stars filling every inch of the back wall gave the impression of being in the middle of a huge field. Except, of course, that she was sucked into the middle of a very comfortable couch. She sighed contentedly and snuggled deeper. Andrew’s nearly soundless form drew closer. Casey was too comfortable and relaxed to feel more than the slightest twinge of nervousness as he lowered his strong body onto the cushions next to her. She turned a smile on him as he placed their drinks on the low coffee table and eased himself against the back of the couch. Making himself comfortable, he pulled Casey into the crook of his arm. She couldn't stop herself from tensing up. As if he understood, Andrew just held her softly until she relaxed and snuggled closer, closing her eyes. This was heaven. Andrew’s gently fingers played idly with a single curl at her temple. “So my little Casey,” His breath stirred the hair above her ear. “Have you enjoyed yourself so far tonight?” Casey arched her neck and turned her head up to face him. In the firelight he glowed like a burnished God. She smiled contentedly and looked deeply into his smiling eyes. “Yes, I do believe I have.” Something changed. An indefinable tension gripped her, not fear this time. Anticipation, she recognized as the look in Andrew’s eyes grew more serious. The hand at her temple moved to cup the hollow at her throat and he lowered his head so slowly that Casey didn’t even consider objecting. She closed her eyes. Andrew’s kiss was warm and slow. He nibbled the skin of Casey’s lower lip, his breath warm on her mouth. Casey sighed as he shifted slightly and traced the line of her jaw with his mouth and tentatively nibbled her earlobe. Casey shuddered with sudden intense longing. She opened passion-dazed eyes and watched as he bent his head and softly kissed skin left bare by the v of her shirt. Her gasp brought his head up and he regarded her steadily, his gaze questioning. The expression on her face, and the look of quiet acceptance and burning desire in her eyes, gave him the answer he was looking for, and his lips met hers once again, his kiss no longer soft and slow. This time Andrew kissed her with an intensity that left Casey’s head reeling. She kissed him back with equal fervour, tongue meeting tongue, tasting, taking, asking for more. Casey's hands ran down his chest of their own volition. With what sounded like a low curse, Andrew broke the kiss and raised his head. His gaze hooded, he regarded the expression on her face. Casey feared he was going to stop, feared he wasn’t. “I want to make love with you.” His gravelly voice washed over her. He framed his words as much as a statement as a question and as if he couldn't help himself, ran a line of soft kisses across her cheek. Part of Casey wanted him to just take her, not give her any choice and make the decision easier for her. She could count on one hand the number of lovers she’d had, and none of those relationships had been entered into lightly. It just wasn’t in her nature and she was torn about whether or not getting that close to Andrew would be a good idea. She was terribly afraid she would get too attached, and she was going to end up getting terribly hurt. But he felt so damn good, the idea of stopping was almost as terrifying. Almost. Casey looked at him uncertainly. “This probably isn’t such a good idea right now.” She felt bereft at the loss of his mouth on her skin. “No?” Andrew rubbed the tip of his nose against her forehead in a strangely tender gesture. “Why’s that?” He kissed her lightly on the temple. “We don’t even live in the same country.” Casey shut her eyes; the feel of his lips lightly feathering her skin was too much for her concentration. “Hmm, that is a problem.” Andrew’s words were offhanded, his attention obviously on the line of kisses he was trailing across her cheek to her earlobe. “Yes…. I…” Casey lost her trail of thought and opened her eyes. Andrew was so close all she could see was the unmistakable desire reflected in his gaze. Something in her expression caused Andrew’s gaze to flame even higher. With a low groan of defeat, Casey submitted willingly as he took her mouth almost savagely with his, opening her lips and plundering their warm depths. His tongue teased, danced, mated with hers and was quickly withdrawn. His warm lips nibbled and caressed. Casey foundered on a sea of intense awareness. Then as a deeper simmering passion burst to life in her unsuspecting body, she kissed him back, matching his passion, giving as good as she got, revelling in their complete understanding of each other’s needs. She felt bereft as Andrew tore his mouth from her throbbing lips and buried his face in her hair. He pulled back slightly. Intensely aware of his eyes on her, she tentatively raised a trembling hand and smoothed the cotton fibres of his shirt over the bulging muscles of his bicep; her passion drugged gaze watched her hand in wonder as it followed the fabric up over his strong sinewy shoulders and down the front of his powerfully built chest. One button of his shirt popped under her tentative exploration. She looped her fingers through the opening and rested her knuckles against his hot skin. Casey’s blood rushed through her body; her head started spinning. She lowered her hot face and pressed her lips against the skin left exposed by her wandering hands. Her control was nearing the breaking point. The strength of her desire amazed her. Andrew raised Casey’s head with gentle hands and stared deep into eyes bright with her need, her uncertainty, and the wonder. He groaned and reclaimed her lips softly, tenderly. Casey trembled under his strong form as his body weight pushed her farther back into the cushions and one large hand wound itself into the copper halo of her hair. His mouth still on hers, Andrew lowered the other hand and roughly pulled Casey’s blouse free from her jeans and cupped the natural indentation of her now bared waist. Slowly, tenderly, he smoothed one rough palm upwards until he reached the border of her lacy bra. One finger tentatively traced the bottom edge. Casey moaned as Andrew relinquished her lips almost grudgingly and blazed a scorching trail across her cheek and down her neck; His breathing rasped harshly in the otherwise quiet room. In the back of her mind a small seed of uncertainty scratched at her subconscious. She knew she should object, should stop him, but the reason why was way too far beyond her immediate comprehension. With a small purr of satisfaction, she gave up trying to think and grabbed the back of his head in both hands as his lips slipped lower down her neck to the open V of her shirt. She gasped aloud as the hand stroking her rib cage slipped under the lace trim of her bra to cup her burgeoning flesh. Her eyes never leaving his face, she watched as Andrew’s mouth wandered lower still, his tongue lapping slowly across her overheated chest. Casey writhed impatiently waiting for something she couldn’t define. She stared, bemused, as he suddenly moved his hand and pushed her throbbing breast free of it’s confining garment. She gasped as he drew the turgid peak into his mouth. Casey couldn’t think; she could only feel and she felt so, so good. She moaned again and pressed her lower body closer to Andrew’s arousal. “Please, please,” She implored brokenly, not exactly sure what she was pleading for. A cracking flame startled them both, making Casey jump. She opened her eyes slowly and met Andrew’s passion drugged gaze with one of her own. Slowly, Andrew’s gaze ran down between their bodies, locked together almost as close as it was possible for a man and a woman to be. He planted a tiny kiss between Casey’s aching breasts and with a deep, steadying breath, straightened her clothes. He sat up pulling Casey with him. Her dazed look questioned why he had stopped. Her body still hummed for his touch. Andrew smiled ruefully and tucked her small form once more under his arm; he tenderly kissed the top of her tousled head. Casey could feel his lips move as the spoke. “Much as I want you …" He broke off with a low curse. "Now is probably not the best timing. I know it might be hard to believe, but this isn’t what I planned for us tonight.” He kissed her again and raised his head to look around them. “At least not yet, and not like this.” At her confused frown he kissed her tenderly on the lips, his breath warm on her skin. “When I make love to you for the first time, I want it to be somewhere we can be comfortable, not on a couch.” He laughed ruefully, his own gaze puzzled as if he didn’t completely understand this need to stop either, “No matter how romantic the setting….. I’ll be moving in here in a couple of days to finish out the rest of my vacation now that my sister’s husband is coming back home.” He smiled down at her, his eyes dark. “I’m hoping you’ll spend some time with me.” Casey looked back, her needs warring with her caution. He was leaving, there was no future. Was she strong enough to enjoy what they had together so briefly, and just say goodbye when it was over, but if she didn't, would she spend the rest of her life regretting? Need won and she leaned in and gave him a slow, sweet kiss. “I think I’d like that.” She was almost surprised to hear herself admit it, but it was true. She would like that. Very much. He sat up straight and picked up their drinks, handing Casey hers. “Drink up little girl, we should be getting you home. You have a big day tomorrow.” He moved away slightly, giving Casey room to recover. Casey shook her hair, took a deep breath and sipped her drink. Giving him a look that still had remnants of the passion they had just shared she smiled dazedly. “Wow,” Was all she said before she leaned over and kissed him softly on the cheek. Leaning back she looked deeply into his eyes. “Thank you for stopping,” She breathed softly. “I certainly didn’t have the strength.” She laughed ruefully. “This may sound strange, but….why? Why stop?” Her hand shook slightly with reaction as she took another sip of her drink. Part of her was thankful he stopped when he did, part of her was just piqued. “I’m not exactly sure myself,” Andrew admitted ruefully. “We have a romantic setting, a suite upstairs we can use for the night, but it isn’t set up for me yet and….” He gazed down at her softly, “and I get the impression that tonight might be too fast for you." He paused thoughtfully. "I like you Casey, and I want to spend more time with you.” He laughed ruefully, “and I guess I’m a bit afraid that if I rush you, you’ll bolt and that will be the end of whatever this could be.” Casey just looked at him. “You are definitely not what I expected when I first saw you on that ski hill.” She admitted almost sheepishly. “I expected you would be some arrogant, macho womanizer who loved and left a string of broken hearts across the west coast.” “It’s not as easy to love and leave as you might expect. It has its own problems.” Andrew hugged her tight. “I don’t have the kind of life that lends itself to long term relationships, but that doesn’t mean the relationships I do have need to be anything less than meaningful. And I hope you know I'd never do anything to hurt you.” She wanted to believe, she truly did. But she just wasn't sure enough to respond. The hurting wasn't going to be intentional, that didn't mean it wasn't still going to cause her pain. Closing her eyes Casey savoured the contact, and then pulled away reluctantly. “I guess we’d better go.” Andrew pushed himself up off the couch and offered her one strong hand. When she stood, he slowly, tentatively, pulled her into the gentlest embrace she had ever experienced, and kissed her lightly. He drew back, leaned his forehead against hers and took a deep breath. “Let’s go minx, before I change my mind.” Before Casey realized his intentions he had spun her around so she was facing the exit and slapped her lightly on the rear end. “Hey!” Andrew was already halfway across the room. “Are you coming, or what?” His laughter echoed from the front hall. Muttering under her breath about bossy, arrogant men, Casey followed slowly. She couldn’t seem to stop smiling. The drive back down the mountain was quietly enjoyable. Conversation was easy, relaxed, and they chatted easily all the way into Lynn Valley. Arriving at the exit to Casey’s neighbourhood, Andrew followed her directions and eventually stopped in front of a faded brownstone building. Casey had always considered it a charming older building, like a blue haired old lady still stately and proudly erect that only on closer inspection revealed sloped shoulders and wrinkled skin. After the evening spent in such splendour she now just thought it looked old and worn out. Will anything look the same after tonight? “I had an incredible time.” She smiled tiredly. Andrew leaned over and gave her a soft kiss. “Goodnight sweet Casey. Have wonderful dreams.” He leaned over her to open her door, his muscular forearm lightly brushing the ultra sensitive tips of her still throbbing breasts. She gasped; he smiled knowingly and slowly removed his arm. “I’ll call you tomorrow about this weekend.” His voice grew serious. “You will come to my sister’s party won’t you?” “As a matter of fact it’s my day off.” Casey smiled. “It sounds like fun.” His sister was planning a welcome home party for her husband as an excuse to entertain for a few hours. Casey was looking forward to meeting this sister and finding out the latest news from Ottawa from her husband. Andrew had mentioned something about him being on an important business trip to the capital city. As it was close to the only home she had ever really known, she was interested in hearing first hand what had been happening since she visited last. Casey turned as if to leave, changed her mind and turned back. A devilish light shone in her cat green eyes. Smiling slightly she slowly leaned towards Andrew and placed her hand on his hard muscular thigh. Ever so delicately, she kissed the point where his earlobe met his neck and blew softly in his ear as she drew back. She could feel his body tighten and strain towards her. Removing her hand she quickly turned and slid out of the car. Her expression was taunting. “Two can play that game.” Her dancing eyes conveyed the message; no words were needed. Andrew leaned towards her. “You are playing with fire, little girl.” The look in his eyes was intense. It excited her and scared her at the same time. “I hope you’re capable of dealing with the consequences.” “I’m not a little girl and I can’t wait to see what the consequences could possibly be.” She licked her lips seductively and pushed herself away from the car, slamming the door closed behind her. With a jaunty wave she disappeared into the building. Andrew sat there. He watched her go and let out a low whistle as she disappeared from view. Suddenly he wasn’t quite sure which of them was calling the shots. Although as he pulled out onto the deserted street he had a sneaking suspicion that if she hadn't been able to escape quite so easily she might not have been so cocky. He chuckled softly as he turned towards the bridge; the next couple weeks were definitely going to be interesting. ********** Casey closed her apartment door behind her and leaned against it heavily. She closed her eyes. “What an incredible night.” She murmured to herself. She could still feel Andrew’s warmth against her skin, taste him on her lips. She sighed and opened her eyes. Pushing away from the door she walked farther into the room. What had she been thinking teasing him like that? It was totally out of character and bound to get her a lot more than she expected. The thought sent shivers down her spine. She turned on the overhead light. Her living room looked like a rummage sale. Clothing hung from the table lamps. Pieces resembling confetti, of what used to be her underwear, were strewn across the carpet. There was even a bra tangled in the feet of her grandmother’s favourite rocking chair. And in the middle of all the chaos lay a large orange cat, his golden eyes watching her spitefully as she gazed around her in growing exasperation. “Tigger!” As she stomped angrily towards the quickly disappearing animal she sighed, what a way to end an otherwise perfect evening. But, even this latest show of her pet’s defiance couldn’t completely remove the smile from her face. CHAPTER TEN Casey handed the woman her change. The sweet old lady in front of her picked up her bag of Regency romances and drifted out the door. Casey watched her, smiling gently, it was wonderful to see proof that one was never too old for romance. She closed the cash door and walked over to see how Michael was coming along with the new window display. He and Gail were crouched over the display case, deep in conversation about whether or not Agatha Christie should have her own section or be mixed in as a part of the whole murder mystery theme. They didn’t hear Casey approach until she was nearly on top of them. Looking up sharply, Gail exclaimed in her slightly nasal mid-western twang, “Ms. Adams, You startled me.” She sat back on the floor with a thump and grimaced as she landed on the corner of a book. “Ow.” She removed the book from under her posterior and handed it to Michael with an embarrassed smile. Gail was…the answer to all their prayers. Even if her hair was blue. Her family had recently moved from Idaho, her father having been relocated with his job to an even smaller town in Minnesota. Gail, old enough to be on her own but not yet sure what she wanted to be when she grew up, had decided to see the world. As she was also a Canadian citizen by way of her mother she had decided to try out her luck in Vancouver, a place as different from Idaho as she could ever have imagined. Casey admired the girl’s bravery, having done something similar herself when she originally moved out here six years ago. Michael smiled down at the girl with obvious interest as he helped her to her feet. Once more upright, Gail turned to Casey with a small frown. “I thought you weren’t coming in today? That’s why I’m here on a Sunday isn’t it?” She shot a questioning glance at Michael. “I didn’t think you needed me Sunday’s if the two of you were going to be here.” She referred to the schedule Casey had posted the previous day. Casey had Sundays and Mondays off, Michael had Tuesday and Wednesday off, and Gail only worked Sunday to Wednesday during the busiest hours and Saturday along with Casey and Michael as it tended to be one of their craziest days. So far it looked like the schedule would work out quite well, Casey could patrol or mountain bike, depending on the season, and still have a day off to recover, do her laundry and grocery shopping, Michael would be able to get a break and they would always have two people working. Casey smiled. “I’m not really here.” She joked. “No really.” She bent down to straighten a book that had been knocked over in the display. “I’m going to a garden party this afternoon,” She shrugged, “I was ready early and thought I’d to come in and make sure everything was going well for the mystery promo.” This was a bald faced lie but she didn’t want her employees to know she had intended to check up on them all along. She was feeling guilty about it as it was. Michael flashed her a sardonic glance. “We are capable of handling it ourselves you know.” He bent down to pick up the next pile of books waiting to be placed in the window and started handing them one at a time to Gail, who had climbed into the display to get a better angle. “I know.” She smiled sheepishly. “Just call me a control freak; I’m getting nervous about the whole idea. We’ve never done anything like this before and I just want it to go well.” Casey blew a stray strand of hair out of her eye. “Sorry.” The concept was a completely new undertaking for The Reading Room. They were going to promote the following Friday as a special murder mystery theme day. They planned to have readings and prizes and a small murder mystery game. The purpose was to garner interest in the murder mystery genre and hopefully increase sales for a usually slow day as well. The plan for the next few days was to promote the day as much as possible and hopefully get enough people signed up for the game to make it a viable option. If this Friday was a success Casey hoped to have a monthly theme day along the same lines, promoting different types of books each month. She was getting nervous just thinking about it. “Mix Agatha in with the others.” She suggested, remembering the conversation she had originally interrupted. Michael and Gail looked up at her questioningly. “We don’t want people to think this is just an Agatha event.” Michael nodded astutely in agreement. “Good point.” He took a quick look at his watch. “Shouldn’t you be heading out now?” Casey glanced at the wall clock and squeaked in alarm. “I’m going to be late. Got to go. See you later guys, good luck. I’ll see you Tuesday morning.” She called over her shoulder to Gail as she ran out the door to her Escort parked behind the building. With Michael taking his first officially scheduled day off, she and Gail would be working together. She was looking forward to it. It would finally give her a chance to get to know her new assistant better. Casey unlocked her car door and, gathering up her skirt, climbed into car. She threw her jacket and purse onto the passenger seat. They landed on top of a growing pile of books, empty Starbuck’s take-out cups and other assorted trash. Turning the ignition with crossed fingers she let out a sigh of relief when it started the first time. The old beater didn’t always start easily. She’d been lucky lately. She patted the steering wheel fondly and turned the car in the direction of the Lion’s Gate Bridge and Point Grey. As she pulled out into traffic she caught sight of an uncomfortably familiar face. Scott was standing on the sidewalk watching her drive away. With a panicky feeling in her gut, she glanced around again to where she’d seen him, but there was only a young mother pushing a baby stroller where he’d been standing a moment before. She wiped suddenly clammy hands on her leg, on hand at a time and cursed. What had Scott been doing outside her store? What the hell was he doing here at all? And just what the hell was she going to do about it? ********** Forty minutes later Casey wished she’d just done what she felt like doing after she saw Scott on the side of the road. Go home and hide under her bed. Today was not working out quite the way she thought it was going to. Some construction in the middle of the bridge had traffic backed up for miles. She looked at her watch and pushed a soggy tendril of sweaty hair off her forehead. At this rate she wouldn’t be there before tomorrow. Looking at herself in the rear-view mirror she grimaced. I’m going to look like I swam over if I sweat any more. As if on cue a drop of moisture ran down her temple and into her ear. She rubbed the offending ear and glared malevolently at the sunshine beating down around her. It was unseasonably warm. It may be a perfect day for a party, but to someone stuck in traffic, in a car with broken a/c, it was just hot. Casey rolled her window down further and mentally kicked herself for not letting Andrew pick her up. At least if they had been in the Jaguar they would have had air conditioning. She leaned her head out the window to try to cool her overheated skin with the meagre breeze and waited impatiently. Finally, her lane started to creep its way up the ramp onto the bridge. Casey sat up straight, adjusted her skirt and eased her foot off the brake. The car shuddered, heaved, coughed once and stopped dead. She stared at the now motionless indicator panel incomprehensively. A car horn honked impatiently behind her, startling her out of her shock. With a feeling close to panic she turned the key in the ignition. A low grinding noise was the only sound she heard. She looked around desperately for a friendly face in the nearby motorists as the long line of impatient commuters behind her started honking and yelling. Yeah, she should have just gone home and hidden under the bed. ********** His sister’s garden party was a huge success, all the neighbours and many friends from Kevin’s work had shown up to welcome him home and enjoy the beautiful spring day. Paula and Janie were dressed in their Sunday best and were helping their mother serve some professionally prepared hors d’oeuvres to the guests. Paula had eaten almost as many chocolate covered strawberries as she had served, but then who could blame her: Big ripe juicy red strawberries were wrapped in a chocolate glaze with the tiniest sprig of mint for decoration. They were as nice to look at, as they probably were to eat. Janie was all professionalism, curtsying to everyone like an English maid out of some Victorian tale. She was enjoying herself immensely as she circulated some type of wrapped meat in a pastry. Andrew thought it looked very much like pig-in-a-blanket but doubted that was the name the caterers had given to this particular delicacy. Although he’d bet his Mother’s diamonds that the ingredients were the same. Angela circulated. She was dressed in a long cream skirt of some diaphanous material with a matching blouse. Her hair was in ringlets and glowed in the sunlight like a halo. Andrew watched as Kevin surreptitiously kept an eye on her at all times. I don’t blame him. If my woman were here in this throng of wealthy attractive men I’d keep an eye on her too. Andrew nodded, smiled at the woman in front of him, said all the right things in all the right places and had absolutely no idea what they were talking about. Concern was reflected momentarily in his eyes as he glanced again towards the driveway. Where was Casey? She had expected to be here an hour ago. If she’d gotten held up at the shop surely she’d have called. He didn’t know her that well but he had the impression that she wouldn’t leave someone waiting like this without a good excuse. Waiting for a break in the monologue in front of him he looked down at Mrs. Applebottom, his sister’s nearest neighbour. Smiling apologetically at the blue haired matron as she paused for a breath he said quite loudly: “Mrs. Applebottom, I have to leave now, if you’ll excuse me.” She smiled up at him blankly. “I need to find out where my friend Casey is; she’s on her way from her bookstore and is very, very late.” His concern was impossible to hide. Where the hell was she? Mrs. Applebottom squeezed his hand. “Of course, my boy.” She smiled at him. “You’ve been sitting here listening to the rambles of an old lady long enough anyway…such a good boy.” She muttered as she shuffled away towards the punch bowl. Andrew felt about two inches tall as he turned away. He tried to think of one thing the woman had said in the last half hour and couldn’t remember any of it. He sighed and strode purposefully into the house to get the cell phone he’d left on the dresser to call the bookstore. Casey must be the only woman in this day and age who didn’t have a cell phone, or he’d call her directly. He hadn’t realized how used to the immediacy of being able to contact anyone, anywhere, any time, he had become, until he couldn’t. And he’d hardly believed it when Casey told him she had a phone but rarely charged it, and hardly ever carried it. Reaching the Reading Room he was informed by someone named Gail that Casey had left nearly an hour ago. Could she have gotten lost, had an accident? Where on earth could she be? Probably just stuck in traffic, but if not…" He tried not to become too panicked, she was her own person, maybe she got distracted, had to run some errands. He wasn't her keeper, he reminded himself. He had no claim. She didn't have to answer to him. She's said she would try to be here early, he reminded himself. There had been no promises. No, there were never promises, he didn't need promises. He leaned against the newel post on the front porch, trying not to be concerned, trying not to worry, trying to decide what he should do, when an older model Escort pulled into the driveway. Andrew barely gave it a glance, and turned to walk back into the house. Out of the corner of his eye he glimpsed familiar copper hair. “Casey!” His ground-eating stride carried him over to her Escort in three steps. He pulled open the driver’s side door and almost yanked her out of her seat. He clasped her to his chest and buried his face in her hair. “Where the hell have you been?” He shook her slightly, pulling back to study her face. “You look a wreck, what happened? I’ve been worried sick. Someone named Gail at the bookstore said that you left an hour ago!” ********** His concern would have been touching if Casey had been in the mood to be touched. “I am so sorry, Andrew. I was stuck in traffic on the bridge and then my car died.” At Andrew’s shocked look she rubbed one eye tiredly, further smearing her mascara. “I was just lucky that a mechanic was stuck right behind me.” Her tone was rueful. “He fiddled with my engine a bit and got it started. I have no idea what he did, but it works now. I was just going to go straight back home and call you, but the traffic was just as bad going back across the bridge and I couldn’t face it.” She glanced around uncomfortably. “I feel bad about showing up looking like this, but I just didn’t know what else to do….” “Don’t be ridiculous.” Andrew’s voice was almost angry. “Of course you were right to come here.” His tone softened as he rubbed an oil mark off her arm. “Now do you see why you need to carry that cell phone with you?” “Yeah, I guess it would have been nice to have right about the time the car died.” She agreed. “Come on up to the house. You can use my room to freshen up a bit.” She smiled tiredly and reached up on tiptoe to give Andrew a quick kiss. “Thanks for caring but I just need a long cold drink, and I’ll be fine.” She stepped back a couple of paces and ran her fingers through her sweat-dampened hair. The beautifully coiffed ‘do’ of this morning had been transformed into a riot of untameable corkscrew curls. He didn't argue, but was pretty sure she'd change her mind when she caught a glimpse of the disarray. "This way," he said. Allowing her to walk ahead of him he ushered her up the flagstone path into the house. It was a beautiful house. Certainly not on the scale of the Hunter’s Bay retreat but lovely in it’s own right. It was a modern design. Low and sleek with stucco exterior and very few ground level windows in the front wall. Probably for security and privacy, Casey surmised as they stepped through the heavy oak door. Andrew quickly escorted her across the living room to the stairway leading up to the bedrooms. Casey shot him a wry look. “Where are you taking me?” Reading her thoughts Andrew chuckled. “Don’t worry, I know you said a cool drink would be enough to help you feel better, but I think that you might want to get freshened up a bit, before I introduce you to my family.” “Your family. Oh God, that’s right.” She ran a hand through her hair again. “I must look a wreck.” “You look beautiful. A bit bedraggled, but still beautiful.” “Bedraggled eh? Gee thanks, that makes me feel a lot better.” Casey retorted and stomped up the stairs. Andrew’s laughter followed her. “In there.” Andrew pointed to the door leading to the guest room he had been using. Casey opened the door and gasped. What a beautiful room, so bright and sunny, and that view. She walked over to the large plate glass window that looked out over the North Shore Mountains. “This is a great room. It’s beautifully decorated.” She turned back to face Andrew as he approached. He stood close enough to touch. “I’ll pass the compliment on to my sister.” Andrew reached out and gently brushed a stray lock of hair off Casey’s forehead. He played with it absently. “If you’d like to take a shower…” He gestured towards a small door across the room. “There’s an en-suite bathroom through there and a robe you can use hanging on a hook on the back of the door.” He smiled briefly. “It’ll probably be way too big but it should do. Anything else you need should be under the sink… I think there’s even a hair dryer in there.” Removing his hand from her hair he turned and walked back toward the door. “I’ll wait for you in the kitchen. Just come on down when you’re ready.” “Thanks, I’ll only be a minute.” Casey felt strangely alone when he walked out. As if he had taken some of the sunshine from the room. Shrugging off the feeling she rushed to get ready. Casey looked at herself in the large oval mirror hanging over the sink and stopped dead. My God! No wonder Andrew was in such a hurry to get her into the shower. She looked like something the cat dragged in and then discarded in disgust. Her hair was plastered to the top of her head and then curled wildly around ear level, the mascara that had been so carefully applied only an hour or two ago was smudged almost down to her cheek. She had chewed off all of her lipstick and to top it off there was a smudge of dirt and rust on one side of her jaw, probably from leaning out the car window, and a smear of black grease ran down her left arm from shoulder to elbow. She looked like a demented clown, although from Casey’s point of view there was really nothing funny about it. She looked down at the light yellow cotton dress she had on and was relieved to see that it had survived relatively unscathed. It was a little wrinkled but had come through the trip without getting too dirty or sweat dampened. She smiled grimly at her reflection. Her antiperspirant hadn’t let her down either; the ads were right for a change. Quickly stripping out of her dress, Casey hung it carefully on the hook behind the door and stepped into the glass shower stall. How decadent, she thought looking around her. She felt like one of those shower dancers at a strip club. Not that she’d actually ever seen one…Turning on the water, she cleaned off an hour’s worth of sweat and grime and running makeup. Finishing, she stepped out of the shower and grabbed a towel hanging nearby. She placed the towel against her face and breathed deeply. The towel smelled like Andrew. Mmmm, she sighed, just like him: strong, spicy and very masculine. How very intimate. The thought popped unbidden into her head. She blushed and, embarrassed, finished drying off, glad that no one could read her mind. Casey put her dress back on, dried her hair and re-applied her makeup. Much better. She gave the bathroom a quick cleaning up and went in search of her date. ********** Andrew was sitting on a barstool at the long island in the middle of the kitchen. His incredible feeling of relief when Casey had arrived had surprised him. When was the last time he had felt so much concern for one woman who wasn’t his mother, or sister? He couldn’t remember. Andrew smiled slightly. This strange new feeling wasn’t making him feel like he should turn step back a few paces, like he thought it would. In fact he was actually kind of enjoying it. Andrew could hear the party going on behind him through the patio doors and had no desire to join them. All he could think about was Casey standing naked in his shower; maybe drying herself with the towel he had used just this morning. He took another long cool drink of his iced tea and wished she would hurry up. Any more fantasizing and he'd be in no shape to rejoin the party. Swirling the ice cubes around in his glass, he tried to make his mind blank. A noise behind him in the doorway made him look up. He turned around and stopped in shock. This was much worse than his fantasizing. Heat surged through his body as he regarded the beautiful woman standing there. She had resembled a half drowned cranky puppy when she pulled up into the driveway earlier, cute but not too cuddly. That description did not fit well now at all. Now she was looking definitely…cuddly seemed too tame a word. Her still slightly damp hair fell in shimmering waves that caressed her face, her eyes glowed emerald as she watched him watch her, and those lips…her ruby red lips possessed just a touch of shimmer, just enough to make any man want to taste them to see if they tasted as good as they looked. Casey started over to him, the skirt of her buttercup yellow dress brushed tantalizing against her smooth, shapely legs. The bodice hugged her curves like a besotted lover. Andrew took another gulp of his drink and nearly choked. At this rate they would never get out to the party. “Sorry, did I startle you.” Casey’s soft concerned voice washed over him. Her eyebrows were knit together in alarm. “Are you OK?” She put her hand on his arm. Andrew pulled himself together. “I’m fine, just a piece of ice went down the wrong way.” He reassured her. Straightening, he smiled into her eyes. “You look very lovely. Can I get you a drink?” “Incredible what a nice cool shower will do, isn’t it?” she joked. Awareness flashed in her eyes and was smothered quickly. Andrew knew exactly how she felt. “I feel much better and yes, thank you, I’d love something cold. Non-alcoholic, please. I’m driving.” She continued in a safer vein. Andrew strode over to the refrigerator. “All we’ve got is pop, juice or iced tea in the non-alcoholic drinks category. Any preference?” He asked over the fridge door. “Juice will be fine, thanks,” Casey let her eyes wander around the room they were standing in, admiring the view and the beautiful decorating touches. She’d have to remember to compliment Andrew’s sister on her talent. She really was quite good. Andrew returned and handed her a frosty glass filled with some sort of fruit punch “Ready to meet the crowd?” He smiled down at her inquiringly. “In just a minute,” She stalled momentarily, accepting the glass and taking a much-needed long sip. She smiled up at him in pleasure. “Just what I needed.” She caught an ice cube in her perfect teeth and munched it contentedly. Andrew’s eyes blazed with desire as he watched her. Casey caught the look and blushed fiercely. She swallowed the ice quickly. “Let’s get to that party.” She grabbed the forearm Andrew offered and allowed him to escort her out onto the patio. Inquisitive neighbours immediately surrounded Casey as she walked into the yard. She smiled bemusedly as Andrew made a round of introductions. Casey looked down inquiringly as Mrs. Applebottom tugged on her arm. “Hello dear, Cassidy isn’t it?” She peered up at her myopically through thick horn rimmed glasses. Ignoring Casey’s correction of her name she continued, “So are you dear Andrew’s fiancé?” Mrs. Applebottom was obviously a big fan of happily ever after romances. Casey blushed and flashed Andrew a mortified look. He gazed back evenly, enjoying watching her deal with the old lady. “Oh no.” She corrected swiftly. “We aren’t getting married. We’re just friends, I…” “I love a wedding.” Mrs. Applebottom gazed dreamily at the happy couple, ignoring Casey once again. “You’ll have to have it in June, of course.” She looked around her appraisingly. “This garden would do wonderfully. The flowers should all be in bloom by then.” Pleased with herself for helping the young couple with the difficult job of planning such a special day she beamed all around. “Of course, you’ll continue your book writing after you’re married.” She regarded Casey seriously, “It would be a shame to give up such a wonderful career.” “I don’t write.” Casey corrected in vain. “I own a bookstore.” “Oh, that must make it easier to sell the books you write then if you can display them in your own store.” Casey looked up at Andrew dazedly. He took the hint and made their excuses, “We really do have to find my sister.” Mrs. Applebottom let them go with a smile. “You’ll have to excuse Mrs. Applebottom,” Andrew whispered when they were out of earshot. “She’s a little hard of hearing. She’s partly deaf and refuses to wear her hearing aid. But she’s a sweet old lady. Angela mentioned she just celebrated her 95th birthday.” “I liked her…..I think. And I can only hope to be that with it when I'm 95. But she does seem to twist your words a bit, doesn’t she?” Casey agreed with a shake of her head. "Don't let her fool you; I think she does it deliberately. There's a steel trap of a brain in that head of hers." Andrew caught a glimpse of his sister across the lawn. “Angela!” he called over the crush of guests milling around. Angela lifted her head from a very involved tête-à-tête with a very important looking man, and waved. Drifting over the well-kept lawn towards them she said hello and exchanging pleasantries with everyone she passed. Eventually she arrived at their sides. “Hey, little brother, I wondered where you’d disappeared to.” She hugged her brother and turned to introduce herself to Casey. “Now I understand perfectly.” She held out one perfectly manicured hand. “Hi, you must be Casey. I’m Angela, Andrew’s big sister.” She smiled conspiratorially. “If he gives you any trouble, just give me a call. I’ll put him in his place.” She winked at Casey. “I don’t think I want to stick around and listen to anymore brother bashing.” Andrew pretended to be hurt. “I’m going to find myself another iced tea.” He grasped Casey’s arm in his gentle grip. “Can I get you anything? Another juice?” “That would be lovely, thank you.” Her smile lit up her face. Andrew turned back to his sister and scowled. “Be nice while I’m gone. Don’t go scaring her off.” He turned and walked toward the house. “If you haven’t done anything she would consider scary then you shouldn’t have to worry.” Angela teased his retreating back. Andrew shot her a dirty look and kept walking. Angela turned to Casey and grabbing her hand pulled her to a bench under a nearby maple tree. They made themselves comfortable. “So.” Angela’s gaze was probing. “You are the patroller that saved my little brother.” “I didn’t exactly save him, just found him and brought him down off the mountain.” Casey protested. “I’m trained in first aid, not medicine. We just keep them stable until the doctors can do their stuff. It’s a challenge, but I really enjoy it.” “Tell me about it.” Angela instructed. “How do you get into something like that? What can you do?” They spent the next 10 minutes happily discussing patrolling, decorating and the new upcoming mystery gala at the bookstore until Angela suddenly leaned towards Casey. “Did Andrew tell you why he was here?” She gazed directly at Casey as if trying to see into her head. Casey was taken aback. “I’m not sure what you mean. He’s on holiday, isn’t he? And sort of helping you out from what I’ve witnessed.” “Well, yes and no.” Angela leaned back again her expression thoughtful. She smiled over at Casey. “This is where I get to do the big sister routine and tell you exactly how wonderful my little brother really is.” Casey looked at her questioningly; she smiled slightly as she remembered the past couple of days. “I think I already know how wonderful he is.” “Did he tell you that he gave up what could have been a fantastic 4 week vacation anywhere he wanted to help me with the kids?” Casey was surprised. “No, he didn’t, I knew he was giving you a hand but didn’t realize that was his sole purpose for being here.” “I needed help.” Angela’s gazed into the distance remembering. “Kevin, my husband, was going out of town for a couple of weeks.” She glanced at Casey and frowned. “A bloody business trip. And I was terrified of being on my own.” She glanced around. “My two beautiful daughters, Paula-she’s eight and Janie, 12 are around here somewhere, they’re great kids but a handful at the best of times and are home on spring break.” She smiled proudly. “I don’t know if he told you but I have a brand new baby boy too, he’s only 2 months old and such a sweetie.” She paused, a soft maternal smile softening her features. She snapped back with a self-conscious grin. “Anyway, the baby’s been a bit colicky lately and I was terrified that I couldn’t handle an entire two weeks on my own. I didn’t know who I could trust to help with the babysitting, and I didn't want strangers in my house….I'm a bit odd about that sometimes." She shrugged philosophically."…So, I called Andrew and cried a bit.” She smiled at Casey conspiratorially. “You know the whole girly thing.” Casey had an idea that it hadn’t all been an act, but didn’t say anything. “And he offered to come, he had holidays he was planning to take anyway and decided to spend them with us. “He’s taken the girls hiking and biking, and the day you found him, bruised and beaten on the slopes,” Angela laughed, “he was attempting to take them skiing. I don’t know what he was thinking; he hadn’t been on skis in years.” She shook her head. “He used to be really good when he was younger, won prizes and all that, but it’s been a long time…” She looked over at Casey and smiled. “So have I succeeded in making my little brother seem like a much more wonderful person than you had ever imagined.” Casey just smiled softly and watched Andrew in the distance. “You didn’t have to convince me. It’s too bad he’s only here for such a short time.” Angela sobered quickly at the look on Casey’s face. “I think he really cares about you, he’s never brought anyone to meet the family before. Maybe the two of you could work something out?” “We’re really just friends.” Casey wasn’t really surprised at the sardonic look Angela threw her way. She didn’t really believe it herself. But if not just friends, then….. What? By the time Andrew returned with Casey’s juice the two girls were giggling helplessly, their previous conversation long forgotten. “I hope you two aren’t laughing at me?” His tone was reproachful. The look in his eyes said he wasn’t concerned. He handed Casey her drink and sat down beside her. “Of course not.” Casey was quick to defend herself. “I was just telling Angela about my new assistant Gail.” She shot a laughing look at Angela. Turning back to Andrew she continued, “You haven’t met her yet. She’s…. different. I’ll let you form your own opinion the next time you come to the bookstore. “Have you met Kevin yet?” Andrew directed the question towards Casey but looked at his sister when he asked it. “Oh my.” Angela jumped up. “I completely forgot to introduce him. Hold on and I’ll get him for you.” She wound her way through the crowd. “Your sister’s really nice.” Casey said softly, watching the older woman stop to talk momentarily with one of her guests. “The two of you seem to be getting along well.” Andrews look was searching. He picked up Casey’s hand and twined their fingers together. “She’s very easy to talk to.” Casey agreed. She smiled up at him and hugged his arm. “Don’t worry she didn’t say anything that I didn’t already know.” Andrew just looked sceptical. Angela appeared as quickly as she had disappeared. She was towing behind her a very handsome dark haired man. In his arms he was carrying a tiny baby, wrapped tightly in a blue receiving blanket. “Here are the two most important men in my life.” Angela announced regally. “Except for you of course.” She directed as an aside to Andrew. Andrew just smiled. “This is my husband Kevin. He’s the best forensic accountant in the country.” She introduced proudly. Kevin rolled his eyes and shot his wife an amused look. He shook his head at Casey as if to say she was just exaggerating. Picking the sleeping baby from her husband’s arms Angela smiled softly. “And this little fellow is my unemployed son Alexander.” She looked up at Casey. “Would you like to hold him?” Casey protested but was overruled. Angela placed the small child in her wary arms and stepped back. “See, he likes you.” She laughed as the baby opened his eyes tiredly and blew a bubble at her. Casey smiled down at the infant. He was so adorable, so tiny, and he smelled of baby powder. Her maternal clock started gave one big tick, and she knew she was in deep trouble as she gazed down at the child. “He’s perfect.” She whispered, playing with one tiny perfect fist. “He looks just like you.” She said to Kevin as she handed the child back to his father’s waiting arms. “Thanks, I thought so too. A bit shorter of course, but that handsome jaw line is unmistakable.” Kevin was every inch the proud father. “We’d better get back to circulating sweetie.” Angela put an arm around his waist and leaned her head against his shoulder. “Of course Boss, whatever you say.” Kevin smiled indulgently at his wife. “Enjoy yourselves, you two.” He directed towards Andrew and Casey. “There’s lots of food and drink floating around here. Help yourselves.” They said their goodbyes, promising to drop in at the bookstore Friday and went to circulate among their other guests. Casey watched them go. She turned towards Andrew and they started off across the lawn in the opposite direction. “They seem very happy together.” She reflected enviously. “They are. They’re probably the only example of a happily married couple that I know.” “You sound…I don’t know…almost as if you don't believe in happy marriages.” Casey looked at him in surprise. “I just know too many relationships that were great before the wedding and fell apart afterwards.” “Maybe it was the relationship that had problems in the first place, but just weren't addressed before the marriage happened.” Casey suggested logically and shrugged. "I see friends who seem to think all of their small, seemingly unimportant, relationship problems will just magically resolve themselves if only they were married. It's a recipe for disaster." Andrew looked at her consideringly. “You’re probably right.” He offered her his arm and changed the subject. “Shall we circulate?” ********** A couple of hours later they found themselves back at the main garden gate. Andrew turned to look at the party still in full swing around them. “So, would you like to stay and circulate some more?” He looked down at Casey and smiled roguishly. “Or, would you like to go somewhere quiet and be alone with me?” He stepped closer to her and ran his hands down her bare arms. Casey’s breath caught in her throat. “When you put it like that, how can I refuse?” She breathed. She lowered her lashes shyly. “Would you like to come to my place? I make a mean lasagne.” She tempted. “That sounds great. Why don’t you go ahead? I’ll change into something a bit more comfortable.” He indicated his starched cotton pants and expensive silk shirt. “And I’ll meet you over there in about an hour. Wait a minute…” He disappeared into the house. Reappearing moments later he handed her his cell phone. “Use this if you have any trouble. I’ve written Angela’s number on a piece of tape on the back.” Casey laughed. “I guess I should start charging mine and keeping it with me. Thank you, that’s very thoughtful.” Casey raised herself on tiptoe and gave him a quick kiss. “Don’t be too long.” She suggested. Turning she left the garden through the gate and wound her way around the path to her car parked in the driveway. The drive home went much faster than the drive to the party. Within 15 minutes she was walking into her apartment. The car hadn’t so much as pinged. Tigger was at it again. She gave the cat an exasperated look and, after a ten-minute game of chase the cat, grabbed him and tossed him gently into the bedroom. With a smile of victory she returned to the living room. “And that’s where you are going to stay.” She yelled as the cat meowed piteously and scratched at the door. Casey cleaned up the living room and kitchen as quickly as possible. She pulled already prepared lasagne from her freezer and put it into the microwave to thaw out. Feeling a little bit guilty about her claim to Andrew of making a mean lasagne, she buried the container deep in her garbage bin. Well, she didn’t completely lie; she was the one who was going to cook it. Setting the timer she went to get changed. Ten minutes later, her bedroom straightened up and herself changed into jeans and a sleeveless t-shirt she returned to the kitchen to throw together a salad and popped the lasagne into the oven to brown. Tigger had somehow managed to escape his prison and was hiding somewhere in the living room; she left him alone. As long as he was quiet and stayed hidden he was fine. He didn’t usually bother guests. She’d just have to hope he stayed true to form. Half an hour later, the lasagne bubbled happily in the oven. The smell of browning cheese and spices filled the apartment; making Casey’s mouth water. She had just finished putting the finishing touches on her carefully laid dining room table and lit the candles when a knock at the door heralded Andrew’s arrival. CHAPTER ELEVEN She opened the door with a smile. “Just in time.” Scott smiled back at her. “Scott! What are you doing here?” Casey felt all the color drain out of her face. She moved to close the door, but wasn’t fast enough. Scott easily pushed past her into her apartment. “I didn’t invite you in.” Anger bubbled, but was strangled out by uncertainty, and fear. Her voice wavered. Scott turned his cool brown eyes on her as he pulled a chilled bottle of wine from a cooler bag he carried and proceeded to pry out the cork. “Surprise.” He said with a smile. Reaching into her cupboard as if he owned the place he took down two wine glasses, filled them and handed one to Casey. She took it automatically, too shocked to do anything else. He hadn’t changed, Casey thought as she regarded him warily, he was still tall, dark, athletically built and good looking, on the surface anyway. Underneath he was a spoilt child determined to have his way at any cost. Casey had thought she’d loved him at one point, now she couldn’t understand what she’d seen in him at all. She placed the untouched wine on the counter. “You are not welcome here Scott. I want you to leave.” “Oh Casey, darling.” He started around the Island, and Casey darted the other direction. She felt safer with something between them. Scott scowled, but stopped and appraised her. “I missed you. I know I hurt you when I left, but it’ll be much better now.” He took a sip of his wine and smiled a smile a few months ago would have had Casey melting at his feet. “My wife knows how important you are to me. She won’t be a bother. So we can be together just like you wanted.” “Are you totally sick?” Casey asked, eyes wide at his gall. “I don’t want to be with you and I’ve told you that over and over. You need to leave, Scott. Now.” She pointed to the door. Scott walked over to her with deliberate steps. “You don’t mean that.” He smiled and grabbed her cold hands in his. “You really don’t mean that.” With one hand he grabbed Casey by the back of the head and pulled her to him, catching her lips in a punishing, bruising kiss that left Casey cold. Casey froze, and then, with strength she didn’t know she possessed, pulled back quickly and broke his hold. She moved to a safe distance away and glared. “I do mean that. And don’t touch me again.” her voice broke on the last word. “I don’t love you anymore, I don't know if I ever did, and we are not getting back together. I’m seeing someone.” When Scott just kept looking at her with his calm knowing look she panicked and used the first thing she could think of that might make him leave her alone. She blurted, “In fact I’m living with someone.” At the incredulous look on Scott’s face she knew she had finally found something to get through to him. “You need to go Scott, go back to your wife.” “You don’t mean that, Babe.” His voice was just a little less convinced now. “We were so good together…” “No Scott, we are over. Andrew will be home any minute…..” The front door squeaked as it swung inward. Casey almost collapsed with relief. Andrew. Before she could worry about his reaction she immediately jumped to the door and pulled it open. “Hi Honey,” She smiled brightly. “You’re home early.” She reached up and gave him a big hug and a smacking kiss. “Just go with it, please.” she whispered quickly. “Oh that’s the perfect wine for the dinner I’m cooking. You do have a great eye.” She smiled brightly and put the bottle on the table next to the door. She saw Andrew placed a bouquet of flowers next to it. He didn't say a word. Andrew took a deep breath. There was no way to miss the undercurrents in the room, or to be confused by Casey's actions and words. He just wasn't sure yet what they meant and would reserve judgement. It would be so easy to jump to conclusions, but his first gut reaction to seeing the strange man in her apartment didn't fit with Casey's words, her actions or the underlying sense of fear he could sense. He shut off the emotional side of his brain. He would determine the appropriate course of action when he had more information. Deliberate, decisive, analytical. The Andrew most people knew from the boardroom took over. “Andrew honey, meet Scott Cameron, an old friend. He was just leaving.” Andrew took his time studying Casey's face as she moved closer against his side, hugging his arm, her body turned into his in a quest for protection he couldn't miss. He saw the bruising on her arms, the raw look to her lips, and the unmistakable fear. He felt his blood boil. "What did he do to you?" His voice was low, menacing. "Please…." She implored quietly. "Please, I just want to get him out. I…I'll explain later. I can't…." she shook her head, her eyes shone brightly with unshed tears. Andrew fought back the urge to pummel this Scott scum into the ground, and wrapped his arm protectively around Casey's shoulder. He looked toward Scott, his stare deadly. He took a moment to enjoy the look of abject terror that crossed the other man's face. Scott didn't say anything either and sidled past Andrew as quickly as he could. Casey pulled out of Andrew's comforting arm and held open the door. “Well it was very nice of you to stop by to say hi, but now really isn’t a good time.” She pulled the door open further and ushered him through. “Give your wife my best will you?” She asked facetiously and, before Scott could do more than sputter awkwardly, she had waved a perky little wave and closed the door in his face. And turned all of the locks for good measure. Turning and leaning her back against the door she closed her eyes and took a deep breath. One tear escaped and slid slowly down her cheek. She brushed it away angrily. “Well I knew we were getting along well, but moving in seems like quite a big jump after only a couple of dates, don’t you think?” Andrew asked quietly. Casey opened her eyes to find Andrew standing a few feet away with his hands in the pockets of his jacket just watching her. “Thank you.” She said simply. “I’m sorry about that but he just wouldn’t take no for an answer.” Andrew just continued to watch her quietly. "Are you OK?" he ran a finger over her cheek and wiped away another rogue tear. He looked at it on the end of his finger and bent his fingers into a fist. With an oath he pulled Casey to him and held her, just held her. She sighed, she owed him an explanation. “He’s an old boyfriend.” She started, her voice tinged with bitterness. “He seemed to think that enough time had gone by that I’d forgive the fact that he had a wife on the side and would take him back.” She shrugged, “We dated briefly about a year ago. I thought it was love.” She told him almost apologetically looking up at his closed expression. “I thought we were meant to be together. He was so sweet, and attentive, and treated me like a princess. But then the store started getting busier, and he felt it was taking too much time away from ‘us’, he started to get mad, jealous almost and the attention turned controlling.” She stopped and shivered. “He wanted to know where I was all the time, who I was with. He’d drink and get angry and accuse me of things I never did.” She paused when Andrew's arm left her shoulder' briefly. He handed her a tissue. She hadn’t even realized she’d been crying. She wiped her eyes. Andrew leaned against the wall, pulling her tighter into his embrace. She felt a soft kiss on her temple. His actions calmed her more than any words could have. “One night we were having dinner, and I was trying to find a way to tell him it was over, that I didn’t want to see him anymore….and his wife called.” She felt Andrew tense. “Yeah, his wife.” She answered his unspoken question bitterly. “I had gone to the ladies room and was just on my way back when his phone rang. He didn’t see me and I could hear both sides of the conversation. She was pissed. Understandable. It seems the whole time he was wooing me, being jealous, trying to control my life, he was already married to someone else.” She laughed. “It made it really easy to do the breaking up then.” She smiled at the memory. “I dumped my glass of wine on his head and stalked out.” “Bastard.” Was all Andrew said, and pulled her closer. "You did the right thing." “That was the last time I heard from him and I thought it was done.” She looked up at Andrew through eyes still wet with angry tears. “But he started calling me again a few weeks ago, and tonight he just showed up at my door.” “Did you report him to anyone?” “I didn’t think it was anything.” She shrugged. “The calls were creepy, but I just kept telling him to leave me alone and would hang up. I never expected him to show up at my door like this.” She shivered. “It was almost like he didn’t realize we split up over a year ago. He acted like he had every right to be here. It was scary.” She leaned into his shoulder. “Much as I hate to admit it I am very afraid of what might have happened if you hadn’t shown up.” “So am I Casey." Casey shuddered. "He just wouldn’t leave me along, his ego is enormous. Telling him I was involved and living with someone was the only thing I could think of to get him out of my home quickly.” She grimaced. “And you walked in at a very opportune moment; I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. So, again, thank you.” Not waiting for a reply, she pulled back out of Andrew’s arms, took his hand and pulled him into the kitchen. "I think I need a drink." She handed him the bottle of wine he had brought and pulled down two clean glasses, then turned and picked up the bottle Scott had brought. "I don't think I can ever drink this." She dumped the contents of the bottle down the drain. “So, you think that he'll stay away now?” Andrew asked, opening the wine and pouring them each a glass. Casey was busy pouring the other wine down the sink and missed the scepticism in his question. “Pretty sure,” She said. “He’s got such a huge opinion of himself, but isn’t much for a straight out fight.” She grinned. “I don’t think he'd feel that it was worth fighting with you to try again.” Andrew leaning down gave her a soft kiss on the temple. “Did I mention that he’s an idiot? You are definitely worth fighting for.” He straightened, took a sip of his wine and smiled. “Besides I outweigh him by at least 50 pounds, I can take him.” Casey’s laugh gurgled in her throat. “Good to know.” She opened the oven to check on the lasagne. “Almost ready.” “So you don't think he'll be back." Casey shook her head. “He won’t, he’s gone now. I’ll be OK.” She tried to sound confident, but was still a bit shaky from the whole ordeal and wasn’t sure it came across as confidently as she’s planned. "I thought I saw him the other day outside my store. It gave me a bit of a scare, but I'm sure he'll leave me alone now." She turned back around and almost ran into Andrew. He placed his hands on her shoulders. "He's been calling you, watching…no, stalking you and now he's stopping by to visit when you've told him you aren't interested. He's obsessed, Casey….You have to do something. He's not just obsessed, he's dangerously obsessed. You can't stay here alone until we're sure he has really backed off. You can come to the Bay and stay with me." “Don’t be silly. I’m not going to move in with you.” She retorted. “There are lots of rooms. I’m not expecting anything; I just don’t trust that he won’t come back. I don’t want you too far away from me. I don’t trust him.” “Andrew, don't tell me what to do." She couldn't stop the ice that started crackling through her heart. "Scott…..Scott's my problem. I don't need anyone telling me how to handle it, and I'm not running away to move in with you because of fear." “Casey, I care about you and don’t want to see you hurt.” She felt the ice start to melt again and sighed. “You’re only here for another couple of weeks. I have to keep living my life after you go.” She picked up her wine glass and walked into the living room. She settled herself down on her favourite spot on the couch. Andrew followed, but remained standing. “I need to know you’re safe.” “Andrew…..I appreciate your concern. But I can’t.” Her gaze was steady as it clashed and warred with his. His sigh, when he turned and dropped back onto the couch beside her, was heavy. “Fine.” he agreed, surprising her. Scott would have wheedled and plotted and used every trick in the book until she agreed to his 'suggestions'. But Andrew wasn't Scott. There was no comparison. "What are you going to do?" His question surprised her, but it was true, she needed to do something. Andrew was right, whether she really wanted to acknowledge it or not, Scott wasn't going to stay away, and if he ever realized that she still lived alone….Casey felt a frisson of fear. “I’ll call the cops on Monday and get a restraining order out on him." She decided. "Do you want me to go with you?" "Tempting," she smiled, "but no, I need to handle this." "Will you at least keep my phone so if you ever need me you can reach me quickly?" "I'll put your number on speed dial." She promised. "I suppose that means I'll need to keep it charged." She mused. "And I'll keep my door locked and check it before I open it to make sure no one's tampered with the lock." Andrew couldn't help it; he had to make one demand. "And if you ever see that son of a bitch again, you’re calling me and then the police right away. Got it?” His eyes glittered dangerously. She smiled, strangely comforted by his show of anger. “Got it? And Andrew? Thank you, but I can really look after myself.” “Did he hurt you?” Andrew ran his thumb over her swollen lips. “Mostly just my pride and a bruise or two. I’ll heal.” She said quickly when his gaze darkened again. “So, this dinner invitation isn’t starting out quite the way I had planned.” “No, I don’t suppose it is.” “Let’s start over.” She jumped up from the couch, and grabbing his hand, pulled him up with her. Andrew looked down at her. “Pardon?” “Let’s start over. Let’s pretend this first part never happened.” “You want to start over….?” “I do.” “Well then, let's start over.” Andrew walked over to the front door and picked up the flowers he’d put down when he’d been pulled into the apartment so suddenly. “Good evening Casey, I hope you like daisies, and white wine.” He smiled. “Good evening Andrew,” She smiled back. ” I love daisies, and the wine…” she lifted her glass to her lips and took a quick sip, “will go perfectly with my lasagne.” He bent down and gave her a long sweet kiss. “Mmm, you taste delicious.” He licked his lips. Handing her the flowers he walked farther into the room. “Make yourself at home…again….” Casey invited with a giggle. “I’ll just get a vase for the flowers.” She disappeared into the kitchen. Andrew took her invitation seriously. He walked around the small apartment examining the small touches that are an indicator of the owner’s personality. She obviously loved blue glass. One entire bookcase and the large windowsill in the living room were completely covered in it. A large fern stood in one corner of the room, adding a splash of green. An antique rocker had a place of honour by the window. The small overstuffed couch they’d been sitting on earlier and the matching chair, both in a bright Aztec pattern faced the rocker, making a very cozy conversation A couple of end tables and a large square coffee table finished off the room. He liked it; it was a charming, happy room. A lot like Casey herself. Andrew wandered over to the built-in bookcase that covered the entire end wall of the room. Other than the blue glass there were numerous family pictures, dolls, obviously collected from a young age, and other knickknacks, some new, some not so new. Andrew was looking closely at a framed photo of Casey and another girl who looked a lot like her, when she walked back into the room. She placed the flowers she’d put into a blue glass vase on the end table next to the couch and noticed his interest in the photo. “That’s my sister, Stephanie. My best friend.” She explained. “We’re only a couple of years apart in age… probably the reason we’re so close.” She walked over and sank down on the couch, tucking her legs underneath her. Andrew continued to examine the various treasures on display. “Are you two the only kids?” He asked examining the other photos. “No. We’ve got an older sister, Katherine. She’s a bush pilot in Northern Ontario.” Andrew flashed her a startled look. Casey shrugged. “She’s never been much of a people person and after her husband was killed in a car accident about nine years ago she finally found her niche hidden away in the bush.” She offered Andrew a cracker from the plate in front of her. “The oldest in the family is Kyle.” She chewed her own cracker, spread lavishly with Brie cheese, contemplatively. “He’s 36 and a retired model, owns his own studio and agency in Milan now. He seems to be doing pretty well, last year he flew the entire family over for Christmas.” She laughed. “Now that was a hoot.” She picked up another cracker and sliced off more Brie. “There’s a picture of the entire family up on the top shelf.” She indicated a large frame above his head. “Nice looking family. Are those your parents?” Andrew inquired indicating a smaller frame on the shelf at eye level. “Yeah, they were killed in a freak accident a few years back.” Her voice was sad. “A car went out of control and ran into them when they were taking their nightly walk.” “I’m sorry.” He walked over to the couch and sat next to her. He put her small hand in his and brought it to his mouth. “We weren’t as close as I would have liked to be. I was at school in Ontario at the time and Dad was stationed somewhere in Germany. I wasn’t even able to go to the funeral.” She shook her head despondently. “I can’t believe it’s been nearly 8 years already. Its incredible how fast time goes by when you get older isn’t it?” Andrew leaned back against the back of the couch and stretched out his long legs. “That is so true. Look at us.” He flashed Casey a teasing look. “I’ve known you for just over a week and it already feels like years.” “I’m taking that as a compliment.” Casey scowled and then smiled. With a quick glance at her watch she stood up and changed the subject. “Supper should be ready, Sir.” She curtsied low, laughing. “If you’ll just follow me.” Picking up a dishtowel hanging nearby she gave her best impression of an English butler. Andrew laughed and followed her to the table. “I hope your cooking is better than your accent.” Casey hit him with the dishtowel. ********** “That was great lasagne, Casey.” Andrew leaned back in his chair and wiped his mouth with the corner of his napkin. “You’ve got my cooking beat hands down.” Casey picked up their dishes and walked towards the kitchen. “I don’t know… there is a definite skill to grilling meat.” She tossed back over her shoulder. Turning around to grab the rest of the dishes, she slammed into Andrew with all the force of a skier hitting a rock. Her open palms flat against his chest, her nose squashed against a button on his shirt, she emitted a little squeak of surprise and looked up, way up, into laughing blue eyes. Reaching around her, Andrew placed the pan and utensils he was carrying on the counter behind her. He wrapped his arms around Casey’s back and locked her into a bear hug, then bent down and rubbed his nose against hers. “Hello there.” His voice was husky. “You startled me,” Casey laughed. Her heart raced a little faster “You mean you wouldn’t have hugged me unless it was an accident.” Andrew pretended to frown sadly; his eyes twinkled. Casey pushed him away with a smile. He knew the answer; there was no need to respond. “Would you like a cup of coffee?” She turned and opened the cupboard next to the fridge, surprised to see her hands shaking like dry leaves in a strong wind. Andrew walked after her and wrapped her in his arms from behind. “Maybe later.” He whispered in her ear. His breath warmed Casey’s ear and stirred the hair at her temple. The masculine scent of him inundated her senses. “Why don’t you come back into the living room and talk to me some more.” His voice was low, seductive and was sending shivers up Casey’s spine. “I have to clean up.” Casey protested weakly. Her knees were beginning to turn to jelly. If he let go of her now, she’d end up in a heap on the floor. “You can do that later, too.” Andrew nibbled her earlobe. “Come.” He turned her around gently and led her, bemused and oh so aware, by the hand back into the living room. He by-passed the couch and sat down in the easy chair. Casey fell with a thump as Andrew pulled her down onto his lap. “What would you like to talk about?” She asked breathlessly her mouth only inches from his. His breath washed over her, stirring her senses. He smelled of spices and wine. “Well for starters, how about this.” His soft kiss feathered across her lips as light as a breeze, silencing her as nothing else could have. “And this.” He nibbled the line of her jaw with his teeth. Warm breath washed over her already heated skin. Casey felt every nibble, every scratch. Her senses heightened amplifying sounds and sensations, pushing boundaries she didn’t know could be pushed any farther. “And how incredibly beautiful you are and how much I’ve wanted you all day and…” He punctuated each word with tiny kisses rained across her face and neck. Casey’s patience wore out. The blood was flowing hotly through her body like lava from an erupted volcano; her head was spinning. No longer content be a bystander to the feelings and emotions coursing through her body, she took control of her wants, her needs. Her mouth stopped his; her tongue gained entrance and danced against his teeth. She became the aggressor, savouring the taste of his mouth, enjoying the thrust and parry of tongues clashing, breath mingling. Andrew submitted to the freedom of being led, of being thoroughly enjoyed. Casey tore her mouth away from the pleasure of Andrew’s kiss and leaned her head against his. “Maybe we should just forget about the talking.” Her voice shook. She rubbed her baby soft cheek against his rough masculine one, revelling in their differences. “Maybe we should.” He agreed softly, his tongue flicked slowly around the delicate shell of her ear, he nibbled her earlobe. She arched her head to allow him greater access, a low moan building in her throat, waiting for release. “Any other suggestions?” His eyes blazed hotly. “Ohhhh,” Dazed with passion, Casey trailed her hand down his tanned, muscular arm and twined her fingers with his. She raised his hand up to her mouth and kissed his fingers, one by one, nibbling daintily on his warm flesh. “We could go into my bedroom.” She suggested tentatively. Her eyes stared at their entwined hands, a dull flush coloured her cheeks. Sucking gently on his thumb, she waited. Andrew smiled a predatory, masculine smile. “We could do that.” His eyes flamed ardently, and then the heat was banked as his look turned serious. “Are you protected, Casey?” The question stunned her, she hadn’t even thought of birth control. She shook her head, her expression closed; she clasped his hand tighter in hers. She could get pregnant. Unbidden a small thrill coursed through her body. Andrew’s baby… She quashed the half formed thought. He would be leaving soon. A future together was not an option. Casey raised her head, her eyes sad. But at least they would have tonight. “Not to worry, little girl.” Andrew re-assured her in a gentle tone, misinterpreting her unhappiness. “I’ll take care of it.” He rained kisses along her cheek to her mouth. His hands came up to frame her face; he teased her lips with his tongue. All thoughts of his leaving fled as Casey moaned into his mouth, her desire flaming, once more out of control, as Andrew deepened the kiss. She grasped his strong shoulders as if to hang on, her mind glazed over with passion. Andrew rested his large hand on her thigh. Slowly he stroked her leg from hip to knee and back again, the heat of his hand scorched her sensitized flesh even through the fabric of her jeans. Casey broke their kiss and, leaning her head weakly against his shoulder, enjoyed his caress. His thumb teased the zipper on her jeans. Casey could hear the rasp as one fingernail ran lightly down the teeth. She could feel the pressure against her womanhood. Blood coursed frantically through her now feverishly hot body; her breath came in short gasps. Andrew moved his hand higher, following the line of her waist and tracing her rib cage through her shirt. His hand paused; his thumb, once again the catalyst, teased the side of her swollen breast. Casey gasped and buried her head in the hollow of his shoulder as he caressed the throbbing mound through the cotton of her blouse. She felt like she was floating, she felt gloriously alive. The pressure of his arousal against her thigh thrilled her as no man ever had before. She nibbled his neck and impatiently unbuttoned his shirt. She smoothed the offending garment open and ran her nails down through the light blanket of golden hair that covered his chest, revelling in the feel of the soft downy fur against her over-sensitized skin. Reaching lower she ran one small finger slowly, enticingly, around his navel and traced the line where the hair disappeared into his denim shorts. With a growl Andrew grabbed her hand and pressed it to his mouth. “Where’s your bedroom?” His voice was raw with tempered passion. Casey opened passion drugged eyes and nodded towards the door in the far wall. In one lithe move Andrew swung up and pulled Casey with him. With her still in his arms, as if she weighed less than a feather, he strode purposefully across the room and kicked the door open with his foot. They entered the room and the door swung closed behind them. ********** From under the couch a large orange ball of fur moved, stretched and growled. Tigger’s eyes blinked, for a moment the light from the kitchen was reflected in their tawny depths. He turned his head and contemplatively, coolly, watched the small space that remained when the bedroom door swung closed. Standing up, the cat arched his back and yawned. He walked out from under his hiding place. Gazing around at the mess left behind by his mistress and her interesting new friend, he went in search of some excitement. ********** “What the hell! Ow! Ow! Get off me you damn monster!” Andrew’s angry voice reverberated through the tiny room. Casey was shocked awake. What was happening? What was all the noise? As the morning sun blinded her, she panicked and the noises that had shocked her awake were relegated to the back of her mind. They had slept together all night! She remembered the long, slow lovemaking and curling up contentedly in Andrew’s arms afterwards. She remembered talking about favourite colors, families and dreams. She didn’t remember falling asleep. How did Andrew see their actions? Did he think they were moving too fast? Was he afraid she was looking for more commitment than he was willing to give? Was this morning going to be uncomfortable for both of them? She unwound herself from the sheets and turned hesitantly to look at Andrew. Suddenly the meaning of the loud yell that woke her was clear. Still naked, Andrew sat on the side of the bed shaking one long tanned leg. Casey looked closer and choked back a giggle. All her questions and concerns about this morning vanished in the face of such a hilarious tableau. Tigger was suspended only by his claws from the end of Andrew’s moving leg. Cursing the animal under his breath, Andrew was trying desperately to free the cat’s razor sharp talons. But so far the cat didn’t look as if he planned to let go any time soon. Realizing that Andrew wasn’t finding the situation funny, Casey grabbed up her robe from where it lay on a chair next to the bed and pulled it on as she rushed over to help with what was rapidly becoming a battle of wills. “Stay still.” She commanded forcefully and knelt down at Andrew’s feet. “You try to stay still with a large mangy beast attached to your leg!” Andrew roared but obeyed her request. He stopped thrashing his leg and remained quiet, the look on his face alternating between anger at the animal attached to his legs and the pain caused by the tiny claws gripping his flesh. Casey took hold of Tigger by the scruff of his neck. With a tight grip on her vicious beast, she slowly removed each claw, one at a time from Andrew’s leg. Andrew winced but remained stoically silent. Casey opened the bedroom door and dropped the cat, now liberated from Andrew’s leg, into the living room. She closed the door with a click and turned back to where Andrew was reclining against the pillows examining his wounds. She grabbed a bottle of peroxide and gauze from her first aid pack on the dresser and sat down to clean the cuts. “That was my cat.” She said. “His name is Tigger.” A small smile played around the edges of her mouth. “He’s a bit nasty.” At that obvious understatement she risked a glance at Andrew’s face. He was not smiling. Taking the bottle and gauze away from her he placed them on the nightstand then grasped her under the arms and pulled her up on the bed until her face was level with his. “I don’t like your cat.” He growled. She gave him a wry, apologetic, look. “I don’t think he likes you either.” “Let’s get out of here before he tries to strike again.” Andrew scowled at the closed door. He leaned forward and gave Casey a hard kiss. “That might be a good idea.” Casey could control herself no longer and burst into gales of unrestrained laughter. She fell over onto the other side of the bed. Andrew shook his head, gave her a dirty look and strode, naked, to the bathroom. “Get dressed wench, it’s a beautiful day, let’s go enjoy it.” He smiled back at Casey still helplessly laughing into her pillow and shut the door behind him. ********** Casey rolled up to where Andrew was watching the swans in the tiny lagoon. “I’m hungry.” She whispered in his ear, and then felt awful as he foundered and nearly fell trying to turn around on the unfamiliar rollerblades. He righted himself and smiled sheepishly. “So am I, as a matter of fact. Any suggestions?” Andrew held on tight to the railing as Casey rollerbladed circles behind him. “How ‘bout the canteen in the middle of the park? The food’s not too bad, and then we don’t have to leave. I’m having fun.” Casey rolled over and stopped only a hair’s breath from Andrew’s heaving chest. She smiled up at him teasingly. Andrew bent down carefully and dropped a quick kiss on her nose. “Me too. Lead the way.” Grabbing Andrew’s hand in hers, Casey directed him across the asphalt path to the ocean edge of Stanley Park. Spying the tiny building that housed the canteen she pulled him over to it. “You go find us a seat and I’ll get the lunch. What would you like?” Andrew asked as he rolled cautiously through the milling crowd and approached the canteen. “Surprise me.” Casey went in search of a table and found one away from the noise and confusion of the nearby pool. She sat with her back to the ocean and gazed out over the park. This was one of her favourite places in Vancouver. It was nearly impossible to tell that the city was only a few hundred meters away. The surf crashed against the rocks behind her reminding her that the open sea was at her back. Wild ducks and geese and other assorted waterfowl made their homes in the myriad small ponds and waterways dotted through the park. Beautiful cultivated gardens added unexpected splashes of intense color around every corner. An incredible network of paths, paved and dirt, circled through the park, past beaches and cliffs, sea lions and seagulls, through heavily wooded forests and past perfectly cultivated fields. Benches, dotted throughout the park, lent themselves perfectly as places to sit in the sun and watch bicyclists, rollerbladers, and walkers of every age, size, race, creed and color glide by. Casey could sit here for hours just making up stories about the people she saw. Andrew rolled carefully over to the table, interrupting her contemplation. With more luck than finesse he managed to avoid a near fatal collision with a hotshot on a mountain bike and sat down across from her. “Here you are Ma’am, your meal is served.” He passed her what looked like a hot dog covered in chilli and a drink. “Somehow this doesn’t quite compete with the lunch we had at The Boathouse.” She regarded her hotdog dubiously. Who knew what these were really made of? She closed her mind to the possibilities as she bit cautiously into the juicy sausage. She looked at Andrew in surprise. “This is really good.” She said through the mouthful of meat, chilli and soggy bun. Chewing quickly, she swallowed, and took another bigger bite. “Are you telling me you’ve never had a chilidog?” He stopped eating to stare at her incredulously. “Yup, that’s exactly what I’m saying.” She finished her lunch and licked her fingers contentedly. “I’ve lived a very sheltered life.” She mocked. “No, really, I’ve just never been a big fan of hotdogs, until now.” She regarded the remains of Andrew’s lunch speculatively. “Don’t even think it.” He warned her off. Picking up the last bite he stuffed it into his mouth and washed it down with some of his soda. Grabbing the litter that remained from both their meals, Andrew expertly threw the entire pile into a nearby garbage can. Casey leaned forward, stretching out her back. She reached across the table and placed her hand in Andrew’s. “I’ve had an incredible time today.” She whispered. She admired the way the breeze blew his hair over his forehead, accentuating the curls. Andrew pushed the hair back off his forehead. “So have I Casey.” His laugh was husky, “Last night was incredible, you were incredible.” He smiled wolfishly. Casey blushed. Unbidden the impending end to their relationship surfaced. She had a sudden urge to know if there would ever be a future for them past the end of the two weeks. But she couldn’t ask, too afraid the answer would not be the one she wanted to hear. And even if it were it wouldn’t help. She knew his lifestyle would never mesh with hers; he was a traveler, she needed roots and permanence. All that was left was to enjoy her time with him, to savour every moment so that in the months and years to come she would remember what it had really been like to love, to love truly and deeply and forever. Casey sat back in shock. She loved Andrew. When had it happened? How? “Casey? Are you Ok?” Casey snapped back to the present, Andrew was watching her with tender concern in his eyes. “Where did you go? You seemed a million miles away.” “A ghost was walking over my grave, I guess.” She smiled faintly. “Sorry, did you say something.” “I wondered if you had plans for tonight?” His sensual lips curved into a smile. “I thought maybe we could pack another picnic dinner and spend the evening at Hunter’s Bay. I’ve moved in there now.” There was promise in his tone. “And to be honest I’m not in the mood to go another round with your cat.” He scowled at the memory. Casey lowered her gaze and collected her thoughts. “That sounds wonderful.” She came to a decision and smiled. She thought she had loved Scott, and he’d hurt, betrayed and then scared the crap out of her, but those feelings were nothing compared to how she felt about Andrew now. She knew in her heart there was no future. It made their time together so much more precious. She would enjoy the time they had left and at least have those happy memories to sustain her through the long lonely days ahead. Deep inside a small spark of hope refused to be extinguished. “I’m sure Tigger will appreciate having the place to himself for the night.” She pulled herself from her contemplation of the future and laughed, her voice cracking only slightly. “I’ll get Mikey to stop in to check on him in the morning.” “Come on, I’ll race you to the pond.” Andrew stood up indicating the duck pond across the field. He foundered slightly as his body readjusted to being on wheels, and waited expectantly for Casey. His denim shorts strained at the seams as his thigh muscles bunched in preparation for the race. She smiled up at him and slowly untangled herself from the table. She stooped down as if to tie her lace and pushed off. Andrew stood and watched the back of her purple t-shirt disappear into the crowd. Stunned, it took him a moment to realize what happened. With a yell of “Hey, that’s cheating!” He was hot on her tail. Casey looked back and grinned. She slowed her pace. It didn’t matter who got to the pond first, the ultimate winner and loser had already been determined by fate. ********** Casey sighed as, hours later, they relaxed in the warm grass of the park, watching people go by, laughing and talking. The day had been perfect: A long walk along the sea wall, laughing at the frolicking seals, feeding the birds and holding hands. Casey felt like a teenager again, sizzling with repressed tension, waiting for the moment when they could finally be alone. For the moment she was content to let the feelings simmer. The look in Andrews gaze promised she would not have to wait very long. ********** Comfortably nestled into her overstuffed chair by the fireplace, totally relaxed, Casey gazed blankly into the crackling flames. The day had been incredible. She sighed, content, and then smiled remembering how well Andrew had made good his promise. Her body still tingled from his touch. Work intruded on her happy thoughts, frazzling her nerves. A message Michael left on her machine earlier in the day told her that they were beginning to have a problem at the bookstore that no one had anticipated: Books were selling too fast. The volume of customers through the door in the past two days was nearly doubled the regular volume since they advertised the upcoming mystery day. She was going to have to restock, and soon, or risk losing customers, But how? Most of her stock was supplied as drop offs or on consignment. She didn’t have time to sit around and wait for someone to come in with a box of books they wanted to get rid of. She chewed her lip and stared at the fire, thinking. A brainstorm hit. Grabbing the classifieds section from a newspaper in the basket next to her, a map of the city from her purse and an orange marker she found in a desk drawer, she got to work. “What are you doing, work?” Andrew walked over and handed her a steaming cup of hot cocoa. The nights had turned cool again. “Hmm,” Casey looked up distractedly. She smiled and took the mug from him. She sipped the rich brew appreciatively. The warmth of the cocoa was a balm to her frazzled nerves; the hot drink flowed down her throat warming her body from the inside out. “This is good, thank you.” Putting the mug down on the coffee table she sat back and turned her attention to his question. “I’m just trying to figure out how to keep the store fully manned and organize buying trips to restock the shelves.” “Why are you looking at the newspaper?” Andrew’s tone was puzzled. “We aren’t a regular bookstore.” Casey smiled her understanding at his confusion. “We stock used, or as they say in the business ‘previously read’ books. We can’t just order them; we have to wait for people wanting to get rid of their old books to come to us. That doesn’t happen as often as I’d like it to…and this time it’s extremely important that we keep our shelves well stocked, or risk alienating a lot of potential customers.” She put her mug down on the table and looked down at the newspaper in her lap. “I’m using this to find yard sales and auctions in town. We’re going to have to scour them all to find what we need. It could be a lot of fun.” She smiled ruefully up at him. “Or a major pain if it’s too busy to leave the store for long.” Andrew sat on the arm of the chair and started rubbing Casey’s shoulders, easing the cramp in her neck. “You’re tense.” He smoothed his hand down the tight muscles. “Mmm,” Casey shut her eyes and relaxed, allowing the heat of his body and the touch of his hands remove the stress that had built up. His hands drifted into her hair and around her throat. He tilted her head up for his kiss. How she loved this man, the thought floated on a sensual cloud through her. He made her so happy; feel so cherished. His mouth on hers made her feel complete. Andrew placed tiny kisses from her swollen lips to the edge of her earlobe. A bolt of electricity raced through Casey’s veins as he tenderly nibbled on her neck. He raised his head. The look in his eyes promised her heaven… again. Casey didn’t even consider saying no. Realizing she was not going to get anything else accomplished tonight, she threw the newspaper, map and marker onto the floor and turned into his kiss. CHAPTER TWELVE “Gail, where are the coloured markers?” Casey rummaged through the drawers in the cash desk. The book purchasing and work schedules she had finished yesterday morning would be easier to follow if they were in color. Then, posted permanently on the wall in the office, they would be easily accessible to everyone. She stopped her search and smiled softly. The last few days had been incredible, full of fun, frolic and lovemaking. Her days, of course, had been crazy preparing for the big Mystery Day while Andrew took in some sightseeing or enjoyed leisurely coffee breaks with a good book in the Reading Room. But after six p.m. was their time, and it was spent in fantastic restaurants, exciting nightclubs, or just sitting around the fireplace in sybaritic splendour atop the mountain at Hunter’s Bay. Her smile faded. Time was slipping away much too quickly– only a week to go. It didn’t seem possible. “They’re in the back room.” Gail sauntered up to the desk and interrupted her thoughts. “I was using them to make the posters for the Mystery day. What do you think of ‘em”? She gestured to the brightly coloured signs posted all over the store. Some advertised the upcoming gala; others gave specific instructions on how the games would work. One poster, attached prominently at the front of the mystery aisle, promoted the murder mystery game and had a sign up sheet attached. “They look great.” Casey blinked and, turning her attention back to work, walked over to look at a particularly brightly coloured poster on the far wall that explained detailed instructions on one of the games. She spent a moment studying the exciting splash of color, contrast and information. It clearly explained the instructions, and was infused with just the right hint of whimsy to make it interesting to look at in its own right. Thankfully Gail hadn’t gone for the darker, deadlier side of mystery, as she easily could have for these posters. Instead she focused on the clues and intrigue of the genre. The longer Casey looked at her work, the more she saw. She smiled at Gail as she moved onto another poster. “I didn’t know you were such an artist. I am impressed. These are really good.” Gail looked momentarily uncomfortable. She hid it under a veneer of nonchalance. “Nah, I took a few art courses in school, nothing serious. I just enjoy color, that’s all.” The happy smile on her face told Casey she appreciated the compliment more than her words conveyed. “Well, keep up the good work.” She turned to walk to the storeroom, changed her mind and turned back. “Gail?” She had another one of her brainstorms. Gail was about to climb a ladder to stock some books. She stopped and glanced at Casey inquiringly. “Do you think you could do the paintings?” She referred to one of the contests they had borrowed from a series of mystery books. “No way! I’m not that good.” She chewed one blue fingernail thoughtfully. “I think I might know someone who could though. He’s pretty keen to display his stuff wherever he can.” “Great. Could you find out soon? We’ve only got two days left.” “Sure Ms. Adams, I’ll give him a call tonight.” “That would be fantastic. Thanks. Oh before I forget, do you think you can handle the kids’ reading today? I’ve got to finish a huge pile of paperwork before I get thrown in jail” Casey’s grin was rueful. “No sweat.” She cracked the gum she was chewing. “I’ll be fine. I love those kids, they’re so funny.” Gail chuckled at the thought of them and their questions. “I’ll just go pick out a really good book.” She moved away from the ladder and turned toward the young readers' area. “Just let me know what you’re going to read.” Casey reminded her and walked into the backroom. Sitting down in her chair she picked up her favourite pen, chewed the end of it thoughtfully. She wished she could have more free time to spend with Andrew, but the store was her livelihood and would have to come before any man, even one as exciting as he was. Unfortunately that old warning about not being able to live on love was accurate. Food, shelter and heat were equally important, even if they didn’t always feel like it. Casey sighed and turned back to the work waiting on her desk. She had to finish her schedules and start on some much neglected paperwork. Revenue Canada would be on her back if she didn’t get her sales taxes filed soon. Today was also her day to go hunt out yard sales and auctions to buy books. It was going to be a very busy day. ********** An hour later, Casey rubbed the back of her neck to ease the knot developing. She could feel the pressure building behind her eyes that generally heralded an oncoming migraine. Not something she needed right now. Why did these government Goods and Services Tax forms have to be so complicated? She’d have to call Stephanie; she was an accountant…she’d know what to do. Casey was just reaching for the phone when the door swung open slowly Andrew’s head poked around the corner. “Hello, anyone home?” He grinned affectionately at Casey as he walked into the room. “Hey you.” Casey smiled and threw down her pen; she leaned back against the chair- back and raised her head for his kiss. Andrew obliged most satisfactorily. “You taste delicious.” He murmured against her lips. “Does this door lock?” He growled low in his throat and stepped closer. Casey raised her arms and, laughing, pushed him back a safe distance. “Sorry sport. Much as I’d love to oblige, I’m swamped with paperwork.” She grimaced. “I probably won’t even be able to take a lunch break today.” “My poor baby.” Andrew crooned softly. He stepped around behind the chair to rub her aching shoulders. “I’m sorry you’re so busy. We were hoping you could join us for lunch.” Casey leaned back against his hands, enjoying the feel of his rough skin against her cheek. “There’s just no way today.” His comment sunk into her tired brain. “Who’s ‘we’?” With a quick kiss to the top of her head he gave her shoulders a final relaxing squeeze and walked around her to lean against the side of the desk. “I ran into Roberta, your friend from the hill, today. We started talking about how well I’ve recovered.” He grimaced. “It was embarrassing but I couldn’t seem to get rid of her, so I invited her to come to lunch with us.” He shrugged and waved toward the store. “She’s out there talking to your new assistant…you were right about Gail…she seems nice, but that hair is wild.” Casey’s attention had turned back to the paperwork on her desk. She really needed to get this done. “Hmm?” She looked up uncomprehendingly, at his frown she snapped back. “Oh, right Gail. Yes, she’s really very nice.” She ran a hand tiredly through her hair. “I’m sorry; I think I’m going to have to skip lunch today. I’ve really got to get this work done. It’s been sitting here for way too long already.” She hated the thought of giving up any of her precious time with Andrew, but the real world just wasn’t going to let her ignore it for any longer. Andrew moved closer and twirled a strand of hair around one finger. “Come on Casey.” He coaxed. “Everyone needs to eat. Why don’t you take a break and join us. Maybe later we can go for a romantic drive along the coast. I’ll have you back here before the afternoon rush starts…” Casey’s patience ran thin. “Look, you of all people should know that when you’re in charge of a business you can’t just run around and play all day. I’ve got to get this done.” The last sentence had the snap of a tired elastic band. Andrew backed away in surprise. “You’re really serious.” “Of course I’m serious.” She scowled at the criticism, implied or not. “I’ve built this business from the ground up, it’s mine. Whether it goes or fails is on my shoulders. I’ve neglected it too much this past week and I need to get this done.” Andrew’s form stilled. “Are you trying to tell me that it’s my fault you’re behind in your paperwork?” “Of course not.” Casey sighed tiredly. “I shouldn’t have taken so much time off. I usually do my paperwork in the evenings and I haven’t lately.” She threw her pen down in exasperation. “This is my livelihood. I’ve got to start being more responsible.” Andrew just stared at her; a strange expression flashed across his face and was gone before she could decipher it. “You can’t do it all yourself you know.” “That would require having people around me that I knew I could trust to do it right.” She laughed ruefully. “I think I’m too much of a control freak. It’s not easy to hand off responsibility to someone else; even if I’m not sure I’m the best person to do it in the first place.” Leaning over the desk he looked at her for a long moment, and then he kissed her once, hard. Drawing back he said softly: “There’s more to life than work, Casey.” He turned and walked out into the bookstore. Casey watched him go. With a heavy sigh, she shrugged her shoulders to ease the ache beginning to build, re-arranged the files on her desk and once again reached for the phone to call her sister. Stephanie answered on the third ring. “Hey, little sister, Casey here. I’m sorry to bother you about work but I need some help with a GST form.” “Shoot. I’m just going over some loan amortization tables my assistant set up for me.” Stephanie’s voice was nearly indistinct as the receiver shifted. “He seems to have calculated interest at the end of the month instead of the beginning.” Her sigh of frustration was more audible as she readjusted her phone. “So what’s the problem? I was about to take a break but I always have time for my favourite sister. “Nothing too important…” Casey’s voice drifted off. “Steph, can I ask you a serious question?” Stephanie’s tone reflected her curiosity. “Of course.” “Do I work too much?” Casey scribbled idly on her calendar. “Compared to me, no. Compared to a normal, healthy person with a life, yes.” “What’s that supposed to mean?” Casey stopped doodling to glare into the phone. “Well, you really have a problem with delegating authority. I bet you don’t even take days off.” “Sure I do. I have Sunday and Monday off now.” “Mm Hm.” Stephanie’s tone reflected sarcasm. “And you patrol on Sundays and probably go in on Monday’s just to see if everything’s alright and then you work all night.” Casey looked at the wall with a chagrined smile. “I guess you’re right.” Her smile grew wider. “I’ve been taking most evenings off lately though….” She knew her sister couldn’t just leave that unfinished sentence alone. “Who’s the man?” Stephanie’s voice rose excitedly. “Is it the accident guy? It is. It’s him isn’t it? Oh that’s so romantic. How did you find him? How’s it going?” “Well, actually he found me and so far it’s going really well but he’s only here for another week. He lives in Chicago.” She started doodling again. She tried to keep her tone matter of fact. “It’ll end when he leaves.” Stephanie tone reflected her surprise at her sister’s tone of finality. “Why should it end? You can just go with him…” “Don’t be ridiculous” She scoffed. “Besides, he hasn’t offered, and I’m certainly not going to ask.” She cut off her sister’s argument. “Anyway, I won’t follow a man. You saw how lonely and depressed Mom was moving every couple of years. I need roots. He’s a wanderer.” “Mom was a lot happier moving around with the man she loved than she ever would have been sitting in Ontario alone.” Another voice echoed faintly on the line. Stephanie covered her mouthpiece to answer it. She came back on the line a moment later. “Sorry Casey, I’ve got to run. What was that GST problem you had?” Within a minute Stephanie had figured out Casey’s problem for her and had hung up. Casey sat holding the phone long after the connection was broken. Was it true? Would her mother have been more depressed if she had stayed behind? Casey shook her head. It wasn’t just that, it was how the children would feel as well. She had been unhappy too. Hadn’t she? Would she really have been happier living in one place all her life? Would she be the person she was now if they hadn’t seen so much of the world? Looking in surprise at the phone still resting against her shoulder she slowly replaced it on the hook. It was a moot point anyway. Sighing, she returned to her mound of paperwork. Somehow she still had to find time later to look for books. The pounding in her head grew louder. ********** Casey was sitting in the same spot, hunched over yet another form when Andrew returned hours later. Casey looked up and smiled. She had a sinking feeling that the dark circles under her eyes were now her most prominent feature. “Hi.” She sat back in her chair and arched her back. The sound of vertebrae popping echoed across the room. “What time is it?” She looked up at the wall clock and answered her own question. “Five o’clock, already! I had no idea.” She swivelled to look at Andrew directly. “Where’ve you been all day?” Her tone was slightly accusing. Visions of Scott and his secret wife would probably haunt her forever. Andrew watched her carefully as if he wasn’t too sure of his welcome. With a smile, he pulled her out of her chair gave her a big hug. “Jealous?” He smiled down at her teasingly. Safe and warm in his arms, Casey’s feelings of insecurity vanished. “A little.” She admitted. Her voice was muffled against his chest. “Well, you have no need to be. Roberta and I had lunch and then went our separate ways. She’s a nice girl but talks way too much. I just drove around the city for hours afterwards and thought about the argument we had earlier.” He lifted her chin with one hand to look into her eyes. “I’m sorry Casey, I know this store means everything to you, I selfishly want to spend time with you too.” Casey closed her eyes tiredly. “I know. I’m sorry too, I shouldn’t have snapped. There’s just so much to do.” Her gaze was apologetics. "And I hate to say this, but I had flashbacks of Scott trying to pull me away from the store to spend more time with him." She grimaced. "I guess I lost it for a bit." "No need to apologize." Andrew hugged tighter. "You're right; I was being selfish and shouldn't have made you feel bad for needing to work. Can't you get Michael to help with some of the paperwork?” “He’s busy too, but I think I’m going to take your advice and start delegating a bit more. There are just some things that I still need to do myself.” She opened her eyes and smiled. “But, as my sister pointed out, I need a life too, and I’m really bad at the accounting anyway. I’m going to start contacting a few accounting firms to get references for reputable bookkeepers. I think doing my own is costing me more than getting someone to do it right the first time, anyway I hate it.” Andrew looked over her shoulder at the pile of documents on the desk. “Are you ready to go home, or do you need a few more hours? I can come back later.” “I'm more than ready.” Casey agreed, and without a backwards glance walked through the door Andrew held open for her. Home. If it were only true. “No more sign of Scott?” Andrew asked as they headed out of the city. He’d managed to wear her down over the last few days and she’d all but moved into the house in Hunter’s Bay with him. It was just easier, was the excuse she gave herself. They had dinner together almost every night and the road was dark and winding, too dangerous to drive back to her apartment. Even Tigger had made the temporary move and seemed to be loving every minute of it, chasing birds and squirrels every chance he got. He was a much happier mountain cat, than he’d ever been as an apartment cat. Casey had to laugh to herself. Who wouldn’t be happier living in the lap of luxury? “No sign of him. Knock on wood. The restraining order is in effect now; I spoke with the chief today, so if he comes within viewing distance of me I can legally call the cops on him.” She shrugged. “He’s a businessman. I can’t see him being stupid enough to risk a court case; it would be financial suicide for him.” Andrew was thoughtful for a moment. “I hope you’re right. But you do still have the cell phone I gave you, right?” She patted her purse on the seat beside her. “Never leave home without it.” She smiled. He glanced over at her with a stern look. “And it’s charged?” “Absolutely.” she fibbed just a little, she was going to charge it as soon as they arrived at the house. Besides it had been charged for most of the day. “I’ll have to stay down at my apartment tomorrow night,” Casey said a little sadly. “I’ve agreed to help with the hill clean up, closing up the first aid room and all that fun stuff. We have a meeting tomorrow evening to go over what needs to be done. And I need to be at the store early the next morning.” And with you leaving in less than a week, it might be best to start pulling away now, she thought silently. Goodbyes were hard enough. This goodbye might just kill her. “That’s right; you mentioned that a while ago.” He turned the car smoothly into the driveway of the mansion. “I’ve made plans to hang out with my sister and her family for the evening, and have some calls I need to make and things to organize for when I get back to Chicago. It’s probably for the best.” “Yeah, probably.” she agreed despondently. He could at least have sounded a little sad. “You can come over to my apartment when you’re finished.” She tried to sound offhanded, as he pulled the car into the driveway, and turned off the engine. “I thought you’d never ask.” He smiled. "Unfortunately I already agreed to look after Angela's girls while they go out to a late movie and a romantic evening at a hotel downtown. It's their anniversary." He explained. "I'm not expecting them back before morning." He paused. "You could come with me." He offered. Casey just shook her head. "I'd better not. I'd hate to get stuck in that traffic on the drive over to the bookstore. We'll just meet back up here after work the day after tomorrow." "It's a date." Andrew smiled as he opened the car door and stepped out into the night. Casey met him on the front walkway. They walked to the house hand in hand for one more night together in the huge manor house. As they turned their attention to their evening rituals, Casey realized that it might be their last, ever. Andrew must have felt it too. Their lovemaking that night had a haunting, poignant quality to it that almost made Casey cry... But she wouldn’t cry, couldn’t put that kind of pressure on Andrew. He had his life, his plans, and she wasn’t going to be one of those women who made him choose. Who made him have regrets. But she couldn’t stop the lone tear that fell as Andrew turned and snuggled her against his chest. She felt him kiss the top of her head and smiled softly as she sunk into a deep dreamless sleep. CHAPTER THIRTEEN Casey turned her back to the cash desk and leaned tiredly against it. What a week. She was glad it was almost over…. for one reason anyway. She yawned, rubbed her eyes, and picked up the sign-up list for the murder mystery game. “Michael, what do you think we should do? It’s Thursday night already; the game is tomorrow and we haven’t even figured out exactly how we are going to handle it. I’ve got to have a definite time for these entrants by this afternoon or we won’t have any game at all.” “About what, boss?” Busy cleaning tables in the reading room, he didn’t seem to be paying much attention. “About the murder mystery game.” Casey’s voice was tinged with impatience. “What have we been talking about for the last half hour?” She snapped. “Whoa,” Michael stopped what he was doing and leaned against the back of an easy chair. He gave her a surprised look. “You’re sounding a bit tense there Case. You OK?” “Sorry, this whole gala thing has me really uptight.” She rubbed the back of her neck. “I really want it to go off well. It could mean the difference between becoming a real business and remaining a small little sideline that just pays the bills.” She had the grace to look embarrassed: “I guess I’m a little tired too, a bit too much burning the candles at both ends. Sorry Mike.” She smiled apologetically. “No problem.” He flung his dishcloth down on the nearest table and sauntered over. “Now. How many people do we have?” He turned his attention seriously to the problem of the game. ********** “I think we should run a morning game and an afternoon game.” Michael finally decided after twenty minutes of discussing their options. “That way we can keep the place jumping all day, instead of being packed to the rafters for a couple of hours then dead later. We can split the games and prizes between morning and afternoon too,” He was getting excited. “Yeah, that’ll make sure there’s something for everyone to do all day.” “That sounds great.” She agreed enthusiastically then sobered for a moment as a thought hit. “You realize this will mean a later night. Overtime. We probably won’t get done before seven with the cleanup. I know how much you hate working late.” “That won’t be a problem.” His answer surprised her. “Anything that makes me more money right now is definitely welcome.” He smiled at Casey’s dubious expression. “I’m buying a new ride for the Cheakamus Challenge.” He mentioned a gruelling 68-kilometer mountain bike race running through the wilderness from Squamish to Whistler. “And the one I want is going to cost me muchos doneros.” Casey shook her head at his pronunciation. The fact that he’d never learned Spanish was extremely evident. Not that hers was any better… “I’m sure Gail will stay too.” Michael added as an afterthought. His voice held a hint of male confidence. “Great!” Casey allowed herself to get excited again. “I’ll call the people on this list and assign them start times for their game.” She waved the sign up sheet with entrant’s names and phone numbers vigorously. “And you can check our prizes; make sure we have enough for two games and all the other little contests that will be going on.” “Will do.” Michael trotted off towards the back room. “But just keep the one large prize for the drawing.” Casey called after him. She watched as he waved in agreement and walked into the storeroom. We’d better just keep the one prize; there’s no way I can afford two. She laughed a little nervously. The one full set of Agatha Christie books was costing her a pretty penny as it was. But so far it did seem to be worth the expense. The drawing had been going on for almost a week now. The bin was nearly full of names. Casey looked into the bin again; it gave her a thrill to see the level of little pieces of paper rise everyday. It not only meant people were interested in what she was giving away but that a lot of people were coming through the store. Judging by the week’s sales so far, they were also buying. Tomorrow was going to be a busy, stressful day. But as she fully expected to be out of the store by seven she wasn’t too worried. She’d had later nights and Andrew understood. After tomorrow she should be back on an even keel and able to take a couple of days off to spend with him and try to enjoy the few days they had left together. She smiled. If everything went as planned tomorrow she would be snugly ensconced in her favourite spot by the fireplace at Hunter’s Bay with a nice cold glass of Chablis in her hand…. by eight at the latest. And she was finally going to take the bull by the horns. She would ask him if there was any way they could make this relationship work. That was, if he wanted to. She believed he did. Surely he couldn't treat her the way he had been, and just walk away as if it meant nothing. He'd said he cared….but was it enough to try. But that was tomorrow, she still had to get through today. Taking a deep breath, she exhaled slowly in an attempt to relax her stressed body, then grabbed the phone and started making her calls. ********** The place was packed. Casey looked around her ecstatically. The mystery gala was turning out better than she could have ever hoped. “Casey!” Michael’s voice sounded weak even shouting as he was. The noise level in the store was reaching manic proportions. He squeezed himself over to where Casey busily accepted guesses on the paintings, rang up sales and answered questions. Borrowing an idea from Carolyn G. Hart and her character’s Death on Demand bookstore, they had hung five paintings on the wall in the mystery area. Each was numbered and each depicted a murder scene from a novel. The customers were given cards as they walked in the door and were asked to guess which book each of the paintings was a scene from. Casey collected the cards from them on the way out and the winners at the end of the day would each receive a brand new copy of the author’s latest book. The contest was proving to be a big hit. She’d given Ms. Hart credit for the game idea and was promoting some of her older titles on as many of the signs as she could. Thankfully Gail’s good friend, the amateur painter, had been able to do the paintings for them. They were surprisingly good for something that had been completed so quickly. “Casey.” Michael had finally reached the cash desk. He was breathing heavily from his fight through the throng. He looked back over his shoulder at the wave of humanity closing in. “This place is a madhouse.” He smiled when he said it. Dollar signs popped into his eyes. Casey smiled knowing Michael was thinking of the small percentage of profits she had promised him to compensate for the incredible amount of work he had done to help prepare for it. “Talk fast, I’m kind of busy.” She handed out change, directed a young girl to the bathroom and re-filled the coffee carafe. All in the time it took Michael to catch his breath. “We’re about to start the murder mystery game. I thought I’d get it going if you’re ok here?” “I’m fine, thanks Mike. You’d better get started. Try to keep it close to the back of the store away from any of the other customers.” Casey looked up as the door chimed, three students walked in talking animatedly, still no Gail. “As soon as Gail gets back from her search for more books I’ll have her take care of the coffee shop and customer inquiries.” She answered a couple of questions from customers and rang up another sale. “She’d better get back soon. I won’t be able to handle this on my own for very long.” “Good luck boss. I’ll see you in a couple of hours.” Michael gave her his trademark thumbs up sign and pushed his way as politely as he could back through the crowd to the children’s reading area. A crowd of people were already there, milling about like a confused herd of cattle as they waited for some direction. An elderly gentleman leaned over to ask Casey a question about how the quotes game worked. She patiently explained the rules and had turned to accept payment from a young girl with a teddy bear when the she heard the door bell jingle faintly over the noise of the customers. Gail? She looked up hopefully. ********** Andrew stood in the Reading Room’s doorway. How had so many people squashed into such a small space? The heat from the tightly packed bodies hit him like a wave as he stepped into the store. It was hot, humid, and loud. He felt like he had walked into a rain forest instead of a retail store in downtown North Vancouver. The rumble of what seemed to be hundreds of voices, but was probably closer to fifty, nearly deafened him. He stood for a moment to allow his eyes to adjust to the dim light and looked around for Casey, finally locating her copper curls bouncing frantically on the other side of the cash desk. She looked up and waved. A surprised but pleased light in her eyes as she saw him at the doorway. She immediately turned back to help a customer. She wouldn’t be so pleased when he finished talking to her. His lips tightened momentarily, his expression was bleak. Making his way slowly across the crowed room, he tried not to step on any toes. It was proving to be very difficult. Finally he reached the cash desk. The line was three customers deep all the way around. People were buying books, asking for information, handing in some sort of card or trying to get a coffee. Casey turned and saw him over the crowd. She smiled weakly and pushed her sweat-dampened hair off her hot forehead. “I need to talk to you.” Andrew raised his voice to be heard over the crowd. Casey looked at him in astonishment. With a wave of her hand she indicated the people lined up to be served. The look in her eyes asked him if he was crazy. “It’s important.” He tried to get her attention again. Frustrated, he attempted to push his way in closer to Casey. A little old lady with a cane elbowed him in the gut. Andrew let out a grunt as she hit his still tender rib. “Yes it is!” She yelled back obviously misunderstanding. Her voice sounded hoarse from yelling all morning. Her expression was frazzled. She made the sign for a phone call, indicating that he should call her later and turned back to help another customer. Andrew made one last attempt; He raised his voice even louder. “Casey, I have to go…” she had turned away as Gail’s excited face appeared as if by magic at Casey’s side. She was gesticulating wildly and pointing to the storeroom. Casey’s face broke into a huge grin; she excused herself from the customers, indicating with one finger that she would just be a moment. She turned and smiled in his direction, waved and indicated the phone before rushing back to the storeroom. Frustrated, Andrew stood and stared after her for long minutes. Memorizing the look of her... An annoyed frown darkened his brow; she had to listen to him. He should be just as important as this damned bookstore, just as important as whatever it was that she had rushed off with Gail for… if their week together meant anything to her…. He took a deep breath to calm down. He knew it was just his frustration talking, the bookstore was her life and she obviously didn’t know what he needed to talk to her about, didn’t know how serious it was. Looking at his watch he gave a frustrated sigh. He had to go. He didn’t want to leave without talking to her, but short of dragging her kicking and screaming across the floor, it obviously wasn’t going to happen. Andrew ran his hand through his hair and rubbed the back of his neck as he tried to decide what he should do. A note was too impersonal, too Dear John-ish. He might be able to get to a call later, if she'd charged her cell. He hated to tell her that way but it was starting to look like his only option. And he would just have to hope she’d understand. With a last lingering look at the space where, moments earlier, she had disappeared from he turned and left the store. The bell jingled a tinkling farewell as the door closed behind him. ********** Casey wound her way back to the cash desk. She searched the sea of faces but Andrew had gone. I wonder what it was he wanted? He had been so supportive of her having to work late today; she couldn’t understand his sudden need to talk to her, particularly not in the middle of such a busy day. Her brow furrowed in concentration as she tried to imagine what could have been so important. Maybe she should have let him have his say. Guilt began gnawing at her. Shrugging it off as best as she could, she turned back to the business at hand. Right now nothing was more important than the mystery gala and getting all these customers taken care of. ********** “I think it was a pretty good day, don’t you?” Gail understated. She leaned back in the green recliner and put her feet up on a coffee table. It, like all the other tables in the Reading Room coffee shop was still covered with discarded coffee cups, napkins and empty or half filled answer cards. She picked up one of the latter and studied the answers scribbled on it. “Any idea how many prizes you’ll be giving away for the contests?” She yawned hugely and flung the card back onto the table. Michael looked up from where he and Casey were busy going over the day’s entries. “I’ve checked 50 so far and have one winner in each category. But I have at least that many left in my pile. How about you, Case.” Casey looked dazed. “I’ve got two winners so far in the picture contest, nothing in the quotes though. There must be over 300 entries here.” Her voice was shocked. That many people in one day! It was impossible, but it had happened. She had left advertising to Michael and wherever he had advertised, it had certainly been successful. “At this rate we’ll be here all night.” She glanced at her watch. “It’s nearly eleven already. How ‘bout we have one more cup of coffee and call it a night.” She stretched her arms out over her head. “I can finish compiling these tomorrow.” “Sounds good to me. I’ll get the coffee.” Gail jumped up and trotted over to the coffee maker. Grabbing the pot, she poured each of them a steaming cup of the tasty brew. “When you’ve finished that, maybe you could clean up some of the mugs left lying around in here.” Casey’s tone was slightly reproachful. Gail was supposed to have been cleaning since they closed up the bookstore. She tried not to be too harsh, they were all tired; but the sooner it was done the sooner they could all leave. “Oh yeah, sure, no sweat.” Gail bounced back and handed Casey and Michael their coffee. “So what did you think of my find today?” She leaned against the back of one of the chairs and regarded Casey with interest. “It was definitely the find of the week and will probably save us after the incredible sales today.” Casey smiled. Gail’s ‘find’ consisted of 42 boxes of second hand books, everything from mystery to romance to literature and arts and non-fiction. “How on earth did you get all those for nothing anyway?” Casey was incredulous. In all her years at the bookstore, she had never seen anything like it. “This old lady was having a yard sale, getting rid of everything to go into a home.” Gail shrugged, took a sip of her coffee and made herself comfortable once more in the easy chair. So much for cleaning, Casey thought ruefully. “So how did you get them for nothing?” Michael, business minded as he was he couldn’t believe someone would just give something away for nothing. “Well, I was just getting to that.” Gail liked to draw out her stories. “I got to talking to this nice old lady, seems she had been something of a party girl when she was younger and had hair a lot like mine.” She rubbed a hand over her unconventional hair affectionately. “That would have been quite something back then…Anyway, I told her I was looking for second hand books for the store so…” Gail stopped and took a deep breath, probably more for effect than anything. “She took me inside to her library and said, ‘help yourself'. So I did. To everything.” She smiled smugly. “That’s why I was so late getting back. Sorry about that.” She shrugged not in the least bit concerned. “Well, we really do appreciate it.” Casey stood up and stretched her legs. “So who wants overtime Saturday and Sunday night to sort them all?” Both assistants’ hands came up. Casey laughed, “Well, you’ve got it. In spades.” She pushed her chair in and straightened the pile of cards in front of her. “Let’s get this place cleaned up and go home. I’ve had enough for one day.” As she picked up the piles of cards and brought them into the storeroom to lock in the filing cabinet she wondered what it was that Andrew had wanted to talk to her about. It was too late to call him now and way too late to drive up to Hunter’s Bay. She’d just have to get in touch with him tomorrow. She glanced at the cell phone he’d given her to use. Dead again, she really did have to remember to charge it. Maybe he left a message on her machine… CHAPTER FOURTEEN Saturday morning dawned bright and clear. The sun’s rays woke a still exhausted Casey from a deep sleep. She yawned, turned over and slowly opened her eyes, her radio alarm slowly blinked: 9:15. With an incredible sense of deja-vu Casey shrieked and leapt out of bed. “Arrgh, not again!” Tigger looked at her, yawned and curled back up to continue his dream. Pulling on a pair of jeans and clean shirt, Casey ran a comb through her tangled curls and ran out the door. No time for a shower, no time for breakfast either. As she pushed the button for the elevator she came to an executive decision: there is no way next month’s gala was going to be on a Friday. Tuesday or Wednesday would work just fine. Friday was too close their other really busy day…Saturday. She pushed the button impatiently again. Giving up she ran to the stairs and raced down them two at a time. As she leapt down the last three stairs and trotted towards her car a thought popped unbidden into her head: Andrew. She hadn’t heard from him since he stopped in to talk to her the previous day. He hadn’t called last night either and with her machine broken she had no way of knowing if he’d left a message. It recorded messages but at the moment wouldn’t play them back. And of course she’d forgotten to charge the cell phone again. Shit. There were a couple of unidentified numbers on her call display. Had one of them been him? They had spent the last week practically glued at the hip. What could have happened? ********** Casey arrived at the bookstore late and troubled. On the drive over she had imagined all sorts of awful scenarios: Andrew had been involved in an accident, he was sick, he went hiking and got lost…he ran off to Cozumel with Roberta. The last one she just laughed at, she trusted him. But that didn’t stop her imagination from running riot. Casey was slightly winded as she ran into the bookstore. Michael and Gail were already hard at work stocking shelves. “Sorry I’m late.” She rushed past them to throw her bag into the storeroom. Michael glanced at his watch. “Only an hour…” His tone was sarcastic. “We were starting to think you had taken the cash from yesterday’s sales and blown the country.” Casey hurried over to the cash desk to sort the float. She gave Michael a sardonic look. “We made good money yesterday, but unless I was destined for Seattle, it wouldn’t have done me much good. There certainly wasn’t enough to retire on.” She smiled and shook her head. “Andrew didn’t happen to call this morning did he?” She tried to sound nonchalant, but failed miserably. Michael sat back on his ladder and looked at her closely. “Sorry Case, there were no messages this morning, no calls either. Is something wrong?” She smiled over-bright. “No, no, of course not. He just stopped in to talk yesterday and I was too busy, I expected him to call later… guess I just got home too late.” She closed the cash door with a bang. “I’ll just give him a call this afternoon. I’m sure everything’s fine.” She turned abruptly and walked toward the storeroom. “You two can open up. I’m going to work on verifying the game entries and try to figure out how many prizes we’ll have to give out.” Entering the office, Casey flung herself down in her office chair. She picked up her favorite pen and unconsciously chewed the end of it. If she’d only stopped to talk to him yesterday, she wouldn’t be sitting her wondering if something was wrong. Well, one phone call should clear it all up. Throwing down her pen, she picked up the phone and dialed the house at Hunter’s Bay. She counted the rings: One, two, three, four, five, six, seven…Casey hung up. He wasn’t there, and she had lost his cell number. He’d taped it to the back of the phone he’d lent her, but it had fallen off somewhere. She’d never had to call it so didn’t recall what it was, and had no idea how to get the contact information out of the phone she was using, if it was even in there. It hadn’t been an issue before; he’d always just been there whenever she thought about him. She took a deep breath and made herself relax. There was nothing she could do at the moment and he was a big boy, more than able to take care of himself. If she hadn’t heard something by tonight… she’d think of something then. Feeling a little better, and sure she’d hear from Andrew before the end of the day she turned back to the pile of contest entries and started marking. She felt a little like a second grade teacher as she marked the wrong answers with her red pen, all she needed to complete the picture was a couple of little stickers that said ‘good job’ or ‘excellent work’ to put on the winning entries. ********** Three hours later, feeling hungry and tired, Casey put down her pen and rubbed her aching wrist. She picked up her small list of winning entries and walked out into the bookstore. Michael was busy helping a customer and Gail was still deep in the Arts and Literature section sorting and shelving some of the new books she had picked up the day before. Casey walked over to her. “Gail, I need a favor.” She stopped next to the girl and leaned against the bookshelf. Gail stood up from where she was crouched, shelving a pile of books on Italian architecture, and groaned, “Owww, my aching knees.” She rubbed the offending body parts and regarded Casey questioningly through her over-long blue bangs. “Sure Ms. Adams, what can I do for you?” “I’d like you to call these people and let them know they won prizes in yesterday’s contest.” She showed Gail the list. “I’ve separated them by type of game. The winners of the painting contest all get a copy of Carolyn G. Hart’s book.” She indicated a box stacked next to the cash desk. “The books are in that box. The people who are the winners of the quotes game win a copy of Joan Hess’s,” she gestured vaguely towards the back of the store. “Those books are in my office. You can come in and get them later. Let each of these people know which contest they won and what they won. Oh, and we’ll require proof of ID to pick up their prize.” She handed the list to Gail. “We’ll do the drawing later today for the big prize.” “No problemo, Ma’am.” Gail took the list and examined it closely. “I’ll do it right away…there aren’t many winners are there? I mean, considering we had nearly 300 entries.” “I know; I was surprised myself. Not that I’m complaining.” Casey smiled and turned back towards the office. “I’ll be working on paperwork if anyone’s looking for me later.” They both knew she meant Andrew specifically. The bell over the door jingled. Casey looked over her shoulder and stopped. She turned back towards the door with a smile of welcome. “Angela! How are you? Welcome to the store.” Angela glided into the room; her daughters close behind her. “Hi Janie, hi Paula.” Casey smiled at the girls then directed her question to their mother. “What can I do for you today?” “Nothing really, we were all feeling a little stir crazy and thought we’d stop by to pick up a couple of new books.” The girls rushed over to the young readers area and, plopping themselves down on the floor, began looking through the titles. Angela watched them go affectionately. She turned back to smile at Casey. “They’re good kids but have a little too much energy for me these days.” “I can imagine. A baby must take up a lot of your time.” Casey led her into the reading room to have a seat. “You can say that again. It’s great to have Kevin home; I’ve put him on diaper duty for a couple of hours while I get out of the house for a while.” Angela sat down in one of the recliners and leaned her head back with a sigh. “Ooh, this is sooo comfortable. I really should get over here more often… “By the way, I’m really sorry we didn’t have a chance to get over here yesterday. Alexander was fussy, and with Andrew’s last minute flight…it was a bit crazy at the house.” She smiled apologetically. “I’m sorry…” Casey’s look was confused. “…Andrew’s flight?” She must have heard her wrong. Andrew wasn’t leaving until next week. Angela’s eyes sparkled excitedly, “Yes, did he tell you about the fantastic opportunity he’s been offered? He had to go back….” Casey’s face blanched. He’d taken the promotion and just left. She thought they had been close enough for him to at least have told her himself. She thought she knew him well enough to believe that he wouldn’t play her for a fool. Obviously she had been wrong. She sat down with a bump on a nearby stool and stared blankly at Angela. The rest of her monologue washed over her unheard. Angela looked at Casey quizzically, finally realizing she hadn’t taken in a word she had said. She leaned closer to study Casey’s dazed expression. “Oh my God!” She sat up straight and covered her mouth with both hands, as if trying to stop the words she had already uttered. “You didn’t know.” She looked at Casey in consternation. Casey blinked twice to clear her fogged vision. No need to faint. She’d get through this. She rubbed her temple and forced a smile. “Oh, of course I knew about his work.” Her voice shook only slightly. “I was just surprised that he’d gone already.” For a moment she felt like a lost little girl. “I thought we had more time, he didn't say anything…” Angela jumped up and knelt down beside her. She held one of Casey’s ice-cold hands in her own. “He had to go to Chicago, Casey. They needed him. I am so sorry; I didn’t mean to break the news like that.” She watched Casey with concern. Angela’s words echoed cruelly in Casey’s brain. She felt like she was going to burst into tears; she felt cheated by time itself; abandoned by the one man she had loved, had hoped could have learned to love her in return. Now it was too late; he had obviously made his choice and he hadn’t even had the grace to tell her himself. Just another Scott. She should have been more careful. How many times would she have to be hurt before she finally stopped opening her heart up to the wrong men? Casey took a deep breath and tried to clear her head. “It’s OK. I’m fine, really.” She directed this to Michael and Gail as well as they hovered in the background anxiously watching her. “It was just a shock.” She tried to smile; only one side of her face would follow her command. “That must be what he stopped in to tell me yesterday…” Her face momentarily clouded as a fresh wave of guilt and despair washed over her. She had lost the only opportunity she had to say goodbye. She knew it was going to end but…but she hadn’t expected it to end like this. She felt one slow tear trickle down her cheek. Angela handed Casey a ready tissue and sweeping her into motherly arms gave her a big hug. “I’m sure Andrew will call as soon as he can,” Casey eased herself slowly out of Angela’s clasp. She shook her head absently but answered: “Yes…I’m sure he will.” She straightened her shoulders, her dull, lifeless eyes the only sign of her despair. “If you’ll excuse me, I have some paperwork waiting for me. It was good to see you, Angela.” Her smile felt tight and faded quickly as she turned towards Gail and Michael. “Please help Angela with whatever she needs.” With a vague wave Casey turned walked, her head held high, into the office. ********** Andrew hung up his office extension impatiently. Why wasn’t she answering her phone? Why won’t she return my calls? He walked around his massive cherry desk and paced restlessly, if soundlessly, across the burgundy carpet of his private office. He’d been trying to get hold of Casey since Saturday evening. There had been no time before that; work had kept him chained to his desk until well into the night and he’d been stuck in meetings all morning. The current president of the lawn and garden division had a near-fatal heart attack Friday morning. The company was in the middle of a huge merger, involving the purchase of a major competitor. It couldn’t wait. As he was being considered for the position anyway, they had cut short his vacation and called him in to help. It had been a madhouse all weekend as he worked to straighten everything out and assure all parties that the current president’s health would in no way effect the outcome of the merger. He ran a hand through his already tousled hair, he hadn’t slept in 24 hours, he was exhausted, stressed, and missed Casey like crazy. What the hell was he doing in his office on a Sunday, working on a job he was not in the least bit interested in? Things were going to get even crazier in the next few weeks. He had a lot of organizing to do to prepare for the move. If he could just get hold of Casey to explain… Angela had called him late last night on his cellular phone and given him a piece of her mind. He couldn’t believe his bad luck. For her to run into Casey before he could get to a phone had been something he would never have anticipated. Casey was such an independent person, well established with her own life. Would she look at his decision in a favorable light? He thought she would, but was not completely without doubt. The beeping of his phone interrupted his pacing. “Yes, Sonya?” He barked into the intercom at his personal assistant. “Your ten o’clock has arrived.” Even her calm voice irritated him today. Andrew sat down at his desk “Tell him to wait.” He had something more important to do first. Picking up the phone, he dialed Casey’s home number once again. It was nearly eight o’clock in Vancouver. Where the hell was she? He drummed his fingers on the desk impatiently as the phone rang shrilly in his ear… eight, nine, ten…he was about to hang up in frustration when he heard a click and Casey’s sleepy words echoed down the line. “Hello…?” The pillows muffled Casey’s voice and her eyes were still closed as she picked up the receiver. “Casey? Is that you?” Andrew’s familiar voice hit her like a tidal wave. Her eyes popped open and she sprang upright in bed. “Andrew? Where are you? What’s going on?” Her still muddled brain couldn’t understand what was happening. “I’m in Chicago.” His voice sounded impatient. “Angela told me she met you at the bookstore and told you…” It all came flooding back, his leaving, and the new job. Casey cut him off. “Yes that’s right she did.” Her voice was cooler now: a protective instinct as she tried to cover up how hurt she had been. She heard him sigh, could picture him running one strong hand through his curly blond hair. She shut her eyes to banish the image. “Look I’m really sorry about just leaving like that. I had a plane to catch and couldn’t wait. I really wanted to tell you myself.” “I understand.” Casey’s voice was low. “It’s OK, really. I’m very happy for you and hope the new job goes well.” “It’ll take a while to make all the travel arrangements but…damn. Look, I don’t want to leave it like this but I’ve got to run, my ten o’clock appointment has been cooling his heels for too long as it is. I’m going to be really busy in the next few weeks; I’ll get hold of you as soon as I can…Take care of yourself, Casey.” “Yes, of course.” Her mind numb, Casey listened as the line went dead. So that was it. At least there hadn’t been any long drawn out goodbye. Casey slumped against the pillows and glanced at her alarm clock. She was going to be late for the last end of the year patroller meeting. With a humorless laugh, she slowly swung her legs out of bed. Funny, but it just didn’t seem to matter. CHAPTER FIFTEEN Three weeks later Casey felt nearly human again except for the large chunk missing from somewhere in the region of her heart. After that one early morning call, she hadn’t heard anything from Andrew. But then she hadn’t expected to either. Hoped? Maybe just a little. “Michael, are you going to do the kids’ reading today? Or shall I?” Casey walked over to where her assistant balanced high up on a ladder in the romance section. She leaned her tired body against the shelf. “Hm? Oh I’ll do it.” He grimaced. “Anything to get out of this section. If I see one more torn bodice or picture of some muscular guy and a swooning woman, I’ll puke.” He jumped down of the ladder and wiped his hands on his t-shirt. “Couldn’t we do a History or Art gala instead?” He pleaded. Casey’s mouth quirked. It was the closest she had come to a real smile in a couple of weeks. “Sorry Mike. Romance it is.” She took pity on him. “Maybe the next one can be on Art.” He huffed scornfully and picked up a stray novel from the shelf next to him. He glared at the offending piece of literature. “What do people see in these things anyway? They’re mushy tripe.” He tossed the paperback onto the pile he was sorting. “They’re romantic escapes, where everyone lives happily ever after. A lot of women don’t get that in their own lives and enjoy immersing themselves in it for a few hours in a book.” “Whatever.” Michael obviously didn’t buy her explanation. “Do you read them?” “I used to.” Her voice was sad. It would be a while before she would be able to read one again without bawling for what she had lost because of her stupidity and fear. She changed the subject. “Any ideas what book you want to read this afternoon?” She pushed away from the shelf and, falling into step with Michael, wandered over to the children’s area. They looked at various options and had it narrowed down to two possibilities. Casey glanced at her watch. “Shoot. Sorry Mike I’ve got to run. The post office closes at one and I’ve got to get that GST return sent in. It’s already a week late.” She trotted into the back room and returned seconds later with a small yellow envelope. She waved it at Michael as she rushed by. “I’ll be back as quickly as possible. Before two for sure, but you never know how long a wait there will be at that post office.” She smiled weakly and walked out into the bright sunshine. The post office was a nice brisk ten-minute walk away. The warm sunshine and fresh air invigorated her senses. She was almost whistling by the time she arrived. Practically the only one there, she only waited a couple of minutes to be served. With her letter safely on its way and over an hour before Michael expected her back she ducked into Starbucks for one of her favourite Iced Frapaccinos. She chose a table on the patio and sat back to watch the world go by. She sipped her cold drink thoughtfully and couldn’t stop her gaze from straying to the travel agency across the road. Half an hour later she arrived back at the bookstore. Something didn’t look right. She walked up to the door. The closed sign was up and the main light was off. Casey stared at the door in confusion as if it could give her the answers she was looking for. Michael wouldn’t have left the store unless there was something seriously wrong. Thoughts of Scott immediately jumped into her mind, but she rejected that cause. She’d just heard that he had been arrested for stalking and assault. It seems he’d been doing the same thing to his secretary as he’d been doing to Casey, but in the secretary’s case there hadn’t been anyone to come to her rescue, and things had gotten nasty. Scott was now looking at 10 years behind bars. But like most other things in her life, except the store, it just didn’t seem to matter anymore. She hurried to the store. That’s odd, she thought as she stepped over the threshold. The door wasn’t locked either, Michael would have locked the door. “Michael?” She called tentatively into the darkened room. “Mike? Where are you? What’s going on?” A noise to the left made her swivel around nervously. Her heart was beating like a tom-tom and her palms were damp with sweat. She edged towards the broom they kept next to the door. Someone had broken in! Michael was hurt, in a coma, lying bleeding under a shelf somewhere, her fertile imagination started to run away with her as she edged closer to her one means of defence, although what she was going to do with it she didn’t quite know. “Michael’s not here.” As Casey’s hand closed around the broom handle a shadow moved from the reading room. She gasped and froze as if rooted to the spot. He looked wonderful… His white dress shirt emphasized his muscular physique. His denim jeans hugged his lean hips. If he was a mirage, it was a very good one. Casey could only stare in amazement as the image came closer and closer until she could feel the heat emanating from his body. She looked up into deep blue eyes. “Andrew…” She managed to croak out at last. “What…?” She didn’t know what she wanted to ask. “Are you planning to sweep me out of your life?” Andrew asked, but his eyes were smiling as he indicated the broom she had a death grip on. “I probably wouldn’t blame you; I didn’t do a very good job of keeping in touch did I?” She looked mutely at the offending object in her hands. He slowly removed the broom from her shaking fingers, and leaned it against the wall. “Hi…. Surprise.” He smiled down at her as if nothing had changed. Her blood boiled. “What do you mean, Hi? Is that it?” Casey’s eyes flashed angrily as she stared up at him. “You just leave with no goodbye or explanation, no word for three weeks, and you expect to waltz back in here without a fight. Am I supposed to be happy you’re here?” She tried to brush past him and was caught in his steely grip. Andrew’s smile faded, he looked down at her. “I thought you would be.” Casey shook her arm free and marched over to the cash desk. She swung around and wrapped her arms across her waist protectively. “Why? You’ve moved on with your life. What more do we have to say? Why drag the pain out longer than we need to.” He stalked her silently, like a lion at the hunt until he was close enough that she could feel his warm breath move the hair at her temple. “Why did you feel pain when I left?” His expression was curious, cautious. “You knew I’d be back.” Casey was trapped against the desk; she could only stare up at him mutely, anger stiffened her muscles. “I knew no such thing. Your sister said that you’d taken the promotion and had to go back to Chicago. As far as I knew you were preparing to move to…. wherever the hell you were going, to take over the new presidency.” Her eyes sparkled with unshed tears, her brows lowered as confusion warred with anger. Why was he baiting her like this? Andrew grabbed her shoulders roughly. “I thought you knew! Angela said you knew all about it?” Casey pulled away and rubbed her bruised flesh. She glared at him balefully, how dared he manhandle her. “Knew what?” Andrew turned and walked towards the reading room. He stopped by the coffee carafe and poured himself a cup. Almost as if he was sleepwalking he continued on to the recliner Casey considered his. He sat down absently and placed his untouched cup on the table in front of him. He looked up dazedly as Casey followed him through the archway. “I thought Angela had told you that I was quitting ICEC and that I’d purchased a controlling interest in a small web-based company here in Vancouver.” It was Casey’s turn to be dazed; she walked over and perched on the edge of the loveseat across from him. “But…. No, she just asked me if I was excited about your new position and I assumed she had been speaking about your promotion.” “After our talk the other day, I realized that I was doing exactly what I told you not to. I was letting my work become my life. But in my case, I didn't love the work I was doing. I went out that afternoon and started looking for something I would love to do. “Just before I was called back to fill in temporarily for the current president, I had met with a small group of people who needed investment to get their company off the ground.” His eyes sparkled excitedly. “It’s exactly what I was looking for. I had my accountant and a group of analysts go over their numbers and this week finalized a deal to purchase a controlling interest. I’ll be starting as CEO as soon as I get settled.” Casey turned unseeing eyes in his direction as she relived the agony. “I thought that you’d had enough of our affair and gone back to Chicago. I thought it was just over.” Her eyes focused on his lithe form as he stood up and walked over to sit on the love seat beside her. “You didn’t even call….not once.” “I am so sorry, Casey, I’d have explained more when I called the first time but I thought you knew. I had a lot of prior commitments to fill before I could leave and I was working twenty-hour days as it was. I never even considered that you might not know what was going on.” He put one warm hand on her chilled arm. “I tried to call. I really did, I left messages on your machine….” “It was broken.” Her voice was low. “I called the bookstore, but you were always out.” “No one gave me any messages.” Casey just shook her head; she was too confused to put it all together. What did this mean? “So where does this leave us?” She felt as fragile as a china doll as she sat still waiting for his answer. He asked a question instead. “Was our time together just an affair for you?” His hooded gaze gave away none of his feelings. His voice was strangely serious. He picked up one of her cold hands and played absently with her fingers. “I…it doesn’t matter what I thought.” She pulled her hand away. “You were only here for a couple of weeks, what else would it have been.” Andrew’s voice was low; he closed his eyes tiredly. “Maybe it started out that way.” He shook his head, his tone apologetic. “The last thing I wanted was commitment. Every relationship I’ve ever had has been brief, no strings. I thought I’d be able to spend a fun couple of weeks with you and go back to Chicago without a qualm.” He opened his eyes, his expression intent. “But that’s not how it turned out.” His smile was self- mocking. Casey leaned a little closer. “What do you mean?” She tried to keep her voice from shaking. He didn’t answer her question, choosing to ask one of his own instead. “Do you love me Casey?” The naked anguish in his expression caught her off guard; she lowered her gaze in confusion. “I…don’t…think…it doesn’t really matter does it?” She picked up a discarded book off the table in front of her, turning it over and over in her hands. “You’re a wanderer, I need roots. I could never live the kind of life that you want to.” She looked up at him in despair. “I nearly bought a ticked to Chicago today. I was going to say ‘to hell with it all’ and go after you but I just couldn’t. I’d end up being unhappy and that would make you miserable and it wouldn’t be fair.” She looked down at her now tightly clenched fist. “Do you love me Casey?” He asked again moving closer. She shook her head wordlessly. “It doesn’t matter.” She stared at her hands. Her face was a mask of confusion and doubt. Andrew grasped her chin and forced her head up to look him in the eye. “It matters to me.” His expression was tender and a little wary. “I love you, Casey. I have since my sister’s garden party. I was so worried when you were late and when you finally pulled into the driveway covered with dirt and grime…I still thought you were the most beautiful woman I had ever seen.” He laughed slightly. “And then that night Scott scared you so badly….. I wanted to kill the guy with my bare hands and then dance on his grave.….. I knew then that I wasn’t going to be heading back to Chicago with my heart in one piece.” She just stared up at him. It was the last thing she had expected, a proposition maybe but a declaration of love? She pinched herself to make sure this wasn’t just a dream. “Casey?” He gave her a little shake. “This is where you’re supposed to jump all over me and tell me how much you love me too.” The laughter in his voice was a little uncertain. “Oh Andrew, I do. I do love you…” Her voice was sad; there were still so many problems… “But…” He waited for her to finish the thought. “But,” Her eyes had darkened in sorrow. “It doesn’t change anything. I told you. I can’t follow you around when you move from place to place.” “I’m not asking you to.” He smiled a genuine smile and sat back against the cushions watching her reaction intently. “But…” “Casey, the company is based in Vancouver.” He reminded her. “I’ll be doing more than enough business traveling to keep me happy but will still be able to keep a steady home base.” He smiled tenderly and wrapped a strand of her hair around his finger. "Here with you." His words slowly sank in; she started to feel a tiny flicker of hope. “But you love moving around.” “I love you more. Besides, without you by my side, moving from place to place every few years would wear thin very quickly. But maybe, once in a while, you could go with me on my business trips. Just for a holiday, of course.” His thumb stroked her cheek. Casey had no more arguments. She was speechless. She just stared, forgetting why she had been arguing in the first place. This was everything she hadn’t let herself hope for. “Casey?” His eyes asked the question before he even uttered a sound. She raised sparkling eyes to his. “Yes, Andrew?” He bent his head close to hers. “Tell me you love me.” “Oh Andrew, I love you so much. I did almost from the first moment I saw you on the hill. I was so afraid I wouldn't survive a short term relationship with you, but I just couldn't help myself. A few weeks with you was just going to have to be better than nothing at all. I can hardly get my head around the fact that it isn't going to end that fast after all." She breathed softly. Andrew placed her face between his hands and kissed her softly. “I love you, Casey and I'm not planning on going anywhere. Who knew that a simple decision to take a run down a double diamond slope would change the whole direction of my life. ” A spark leapt to life deep in her emerald eyes as he pulled back. She looked at his lips. “Was it a good decision?” An answering spark was ignited in Andrew; he lowered his head once again. “It was the best decision I have ever made.” He said, and then slowly, softly, his lips met hers in a whispered promise.…. and there were no more words for a very long time. EPILOGUE Casey leaned back against the cold metal of the ski lift seat and lifted her face to the warmth of the sun. Her legs swung loosely below her, swaying gently in sync with the movement of the chair lift as it travelled slowly to the peak of Snowcap Mountain. She smiled. "What are you smiling about?" Andrew linked his fingers with hers. Lifting her hand to his lips he kissed her knuckles one by one. "The day." She answered, leaning her head against Andrews shoulder. "This kind of day makes all of those weekends of patrolling in the rain worth it." She turned and kissed his sun-warmed cheek. "Although some of those rain-soaked weekends, one in particular, will remain one of the best weekends of my life." "I have to agree with you there." Andrew hugged her close and kissed her softly on the temple. The chair clanged past a post and the sign that indicated it was time to raise their safety bar. With a laugh Casey and Andrew unwound their arms and prepared to disembark. "Hey Roberta!" Casey waved to her friend as she hopped off the chair and slid down the ramp. She allowed herself to slide toward where Roberta was standing with a group of teens and Rich, who was not only head patroller, but one of the mountains highest qualified instructors. Andrew stopped at the end of the ramp to adjust his ski boots and bindings. Roberta smiled, said a word to the man teaching the class, and skied over. "Hey Case, I haven't seen you around lately. How are you? Whatcha been up to?" "Oh, you know, the usual, running a business, buying a house." "No way!" Roberta grabbed her hand. "You got the cottage?" Casey smiled. "I got the cottage." She confirmed. "It took almost every penny I could scrape together, but I managed it. The exact one I've been looking at for the last few years. The woman who owned it was going into a home. She put the 'for sale' sign up just as I was driving by. I stopped, made an offer and closed last week." "That's awesome! I'm so happy for you." Roberta pulled her close in a bear hug. Andrew appeared next to Casey's side. "Hi Roberta, good to see you again." "Hey yourself good looking." Roberta reached up and gave him a smacking kiss on his cheek. "You're looking just as hot as usual." Andrew laughed. "Thanks. I think." "This the first time back skiing since you crashed and burned last spring?" "Yeah," Andrew nodded. "So far, so good though." "Going to take him down the double diamond?" Roberta asked Casey, tongue in cheek. "I though maybe we'd start with a nice easy intermediate slop first." Casey winked at Roberta. "In a pig's eye." Andrew laughed, catching the wink Casey directed toward her friend. "I'm not some old guy who needs to be coddled, you know, I can ski just fine. Besides," He laughed, "This kind of snow is a dream to ski in." He kicked up a ski full of soft powder and watched it float away on the breeze. "I'm not wasting it coasting down some old intermediate run." Casey turned to look at him, hands on hips. "Well, just remember Bub, I'm here to ski today, I'm not on duty, so don't expect me to pick up any pieces if you crash and burn again." "We'll see who crashes and burns this time." Andrew smiled and kissed the tip of Casey's nose. Roberta watched the teasing banter and smiled. The two of them were so good together. Andrew made Casey so happy, and she seemed to do the same for him. They shared their sports, had their own careers. Andrew travelled extensively with his new firm, but he always came home to Casey. And Casey joined him for the odd weekend away whenever she could leave the bookstore. He'd bought that gorgeous house in Hunter's Bay and they'd been living there together for the last few months. Roberta knew it had been hard for Casey to give up her little apartment, but it had been the right move for her, and she knew Casey hadn't regretted her decision for a moment. And now that she had her dream cottage, she had everything she ever wanted…well, almost everything anyway, if Roberta knew her friend at all. Roberta felt a brief flash jealousy, but pushed it away. She glanced over toward Rich as he helped a young girl master the intricacies of the snowplough and sighed. Someday. Rich looked up and waved to catch her attention. "Earth to Roberta. Come in Roberta." Casey smiled. "Sorry, I was lost in a daydream for a minute." She gave Casey a final hug. "Got to get back to the class. You guys have a great day, y'hear?" She turned in her skis and, pushing off with both poles, ski-skated back over to the class. Casey adjusted her goggles, snapped the top latch of her ski boot closed, and looked at Andrew expectantly. "Ready?" "Thought you'd never ask." He smiled. Together they slid to the top of the mogul run and as one they leapt off the edge and bounced through the mogul field. Andrew sped ahead, zigzagging crazily, his skis barely hitting the tops of the moguls. Casey picked her way a bit more carefully, but in total control and right on his heels. Suddenly Andrew veered off the edge of the moguls and stopped at the edge of the trees. Casey slid up beside him. "This is where I crashed, isn't it?" "Yes, it is." Casey looked around. "Doesn't look quite the same this time, does it?" "Not quite." He was quiet for a minute and then took Casey's gloved hand in his. "This is where it all started. If it hadn't been for bad weather, a miscalculation and just plain stupidity on my part we may never have met." "Incredible to think that if any one thing had changed that day….my shift ending sooner, you picking a different run, another patroller answering the call…I wouldn't even know who you are today. I am very glad you were stupid that day." Casey smiled and hugged him tightly. Andrew laughed the sound bouncing off the trees and echoing around them. "Put like that, how can I argue?" With a speed that would have made the best magician proud Andrew produced a small square box from the pocket of his jacket and flipped open the lid. Casey stared. Inside was the most exquisite ring she had ever seen. "Casey, will you marry me and have my children?" Andrew asked softly. Casey felt one lone tear slide down her cheek. She looked up at Andrew hardly daring to believe what she was hearing. Andrew froze. Had he misjudged the depth of her feelings? Maybe she wasn't ready, maybe she needed more time. And then she laughed and flung her arms around his neck, and he relaxed. "I thought you'd never ask." She smiled up at him, eyes shining with unshed tears, and this time he knew they were from joy. Andrew lowered his head and their lips met softly, slowly, until desire sparked and the kiss deepened. The sounds of the ski hill disappeared and for a time it was just the two of them. A group of older teens flashed by on their snowboards and their catcalls brought them back to earth. They broke apart with matching self-conscious grins. Andrew leaned his forehead against Casey's and smiled. "Is that a yes?" "That is absolutely a yes." Casey laughed and hugged him tighter. "I love you." "I love you too." Andrew pulled away slightly and removing Casey's glove slipped the ring onto the third finger of her left hand. She bent her head to look at the ring closer. Made out of white gold it was a simple single diamond with an inlay pattern of smaller diamond chips in the band. She looked closer. "Am I seeing what I think I'm seeing?" She laughed. "Is that the double diamond symbol on the band? In diamonds?" She laughed delightedly. "Like it?" "I love it, it's perfect! This is the place it first began, and now a whole new beginning. I can't think of a better way to remember." Casey smiled up at Andrew as she pulled on her glove. "I love you." Andrew smiled. "Not as much as I love you." He laughed and adjusted his ski poles. "Let's go home and celebrate. Race you to the bottom." "You're on!" Casey pushed off and flew down the side of the mountain, Andrew matched her pace. She smiled as she thought about her news. It wasn't confirmed yet, but as soon as it was she'd find a way to tell him on the mountain. It was a place of beginnings, a place where dreams came true. As she floated over the mogul field, her gaze landed on the view of the chalet far below, surrounded by the blue of the sky and the white of the reflected snow on the opposite ridge, and she thought of ways to tell him. Maybe with the tiniest ski books she could find….or double diamond rattles. She laughed out loud. Who knew that a simple call to a ski accident could result in all of her dreams coming true? One thing she was sure of, she would never complain about patrolling in the rain, ever again. The End Thank you for reading Double Diamond! If you enjoyed it, won’t you please take a moment to leave me a review at your favourite retailer? You see, as a self-published author I need a lot more reviews to get the word out about my book. So it would be immensely helpful if you could spare a couple of minutes and write a review. To write the review, go to my book page at your favourite retailer. Scroll down to the reviews section. And just write an honest review (good or bad) and give my book as many stars as you think it deserves. Thank you! Tanya Hess Turn the page for a sneak peak at my upcoming book, Jesse's Place. Jesse's Place By Tanya Hess CHAPTER 1 “Those penny pinching sons of …” Kate Shaw’s angry words drew more than a few stares of disapproval as she marched across the plush burgundy carpet of the bank lobby with its appropriately hushed clients, formally dressed client service representatives and understated, priceless works of art. She shot a withering glance at a matronly woman, with a useless little purse sized dog clutched under her pale fleshy arm, as the woman’s tsk of disdain pierced her angry haze. A punter, her football loving husband used to call that type of dog, Kate remembered with an angry smirk. And right at this moment she was tempted. Sorely tempted. Wouldn’t that just give all these stuck up society dames something to talk about at their next charity function, she thought. But even her mental picture of the little dog flying through the air, her footprint on its bony rear end, wasn’t enough to loosen the iron band of anger that kept her rigid. With a muffled curse she slammed her way through the revolving door of the old brownstone bank building. A man and woman in their early twenties jumped out of the way of the heavy door as it slammed against the wall of the building, narrowly missing hitting the woman. Shaken, the woman clutched the man’s arm as he paused to glare at Kate’s retreating back. But Kate was oblivious, too consumed with the black anger that swirled in her head and the acid churning fear that curdled in her stomach, to see more than the ground in front of her feet. She marched into the bright midday sunshine, squinting as the light momentarily blinded her, then turned and followed the sidewalk, her pace furious. She didn’t know where she was going and, at the moment, she didn’t care, she just needed to move. Her uncomfortable high heels clicked an angry staccato on the steaming sidewalk as she stepped in time with crush of rushing pedestrians. The whole afternoon had been a waste of time. She shook her head in disbelief. She had been so sure they would agree…at least have the grace to talk to her, try to work with her. But to throw her out after mere minutes? Paul had been polite enough, but cool and so obviously disinterested, and had quickly eased her toward the door as soon as he realized why she was there. She’d expected more from Steve’s relative. But from the time she had taken a seat in the well appointed waiting room until she had watched the elevator doors close on her way down, barely half an hour had elapsed. Hardly long enough to call it a real meeting. They wouldn’t even let her explain…. The edge of the sidewalk and the red don’t walk signal stopped her forward momentum and drained some of her steam. She removed her dark sunglasses from her handbag and turned to look up at the bank building behind her as she slipped them on. Anger warred with a feeling of desolation as she followed the lines of the ornate brick to the window of the office she had been in for such a short period of time. She had entered the meeting this morning knowing there was a good chance the bank would reject her plea for the money she so desperately needed. But it still came as a blow. With the ties she used to have to this branch, her relationship with the current manager, she had hoped that they might look upon her problem in a favourable light. After all she hadn’t just been an ordinary customer. Her father-in-law had been their president for years and his father had been one of the original founders. They had been family. Once upon a time they had considered her a member of that family, welcomed her into their tight circle. She’d hoped for at least some remaining understanding, a small amount of compassion. Obviously she’d been wrong. She had underestimated the depth of the hatred they felt for her since the accident that had taken Steve. The flight school and charter service had been his dream too and now she was going to lose it all…unless…. She shook the thought away, she couldn’t do it. It wasn’t right. It went against everything she had planned, everything she believed to be important. But maybe it was the only way…. She rubbed away the threatening tears with an open palm, irritated at the unwanted show of emotion, and pushed the sunglasses further onto her pert freckled nose with one slim finger. Turning with unseeing eyes, she started across the street. The sudden blare of a horn and the angry shout of a taxi driver startled her. Leaping swiftly back onto the sidewalk and out of harms way, she paused for a moment to catch her breath. That was all she needed, she thought, pressing one open hand to her racing heart, to end up in the hospital would be the perfect finish to a perfectly awful day. The rush of pedestrians past her, as the light finally changed, barely registered as she raised one work-roughened hand and angrily pulled out the pins holding her hair in the intricate bun she had fought it into this morning. She shook her head and allowed her hair to fall in a strawberry-blond wave to partially cover her face. In a characteristic gesture she looped it behind her ears and tried to regain some of lost composure. She scowled as the unceasing cacophony of sounds around her penetrated her fogged brain, irritating her already frazzled nerves. Squealing tires, honking horns, the undulating sounds of conversation as people approached, and then continued on their way, hit her like a never-ending wave. She tried hard to block it out, the way she used to when she was a city dweller herself, but couldn’t. She rubbed her temple in frustration and tried once again to gather her thoughts. But the noise crowded her mind, confused her senses, and further stressed her already overwrought nerves. God, I hate the city. She looked up at Toronto’s skyscrapers looming above her and a wave of homesickness hit her. She needed to go home. She could think at home. She shut her eyes briefly. What am I going to do now? With a last look up towards the twenty-fifth floor office she had been in so briefly just a few minutes earlier, she straightened her shoulders, raised her chin proudly and vowed she would find a way. Seeing an opening in the sea of humanity surging past, she turned and joined the long line of strangers rushing down King Street. As she headed in the direction of the bus stop she wondered exactly how she was going to break the news to Bob and the rest of the crew. For once she was actually grateful for the long flight back. It would give her the time she needed to think about it.


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