Rikkayla Tollefson flicked through the blouses on the racks, sighing. If she could just find a top to wear with her new jean shorts! It seemed, however, that her trip’s success would end with the few selections already in her cart. Rain beat heavily on the sidewalk outside, and thunder bellowed frightfully, making her wish she were safe at home—which, fortunately, was not far away. She had little control over her dread, no wish to be consumed by it in public.
Besides, she’d been gone for almost three hours. Thomi’s apprehension at being alone at Cliff Top seemed to have lessened now that she knew Charley Ascott had left Littleton. But still, her memories of the weekend lived fresh in her mind. Probably would stay in some corner of it forever. It probably wasn’t good for her to be left alone long. She’d begged Thomi to come with her, but she’d refused. Said she’d just hang out on the cliffs till she got back.
Hey, wait! The summer outfit she was looking for! Peach culottes with a sleeveless v neck cotton blouse. Were there more? Yes! Impulsively, she dragged the outfits off their respective hangers. One for Halleigh and one for Thomi. Even one for Lyndsay.
It wouldn’t hide Thomi’s horrible bruises, though, nor could it lift her out of her depression. A new face or some new project might help. Since Rikki was quite aware that her sister’s pain, both physical and emotional, was going to require some time in healing, the first prospect would have to be fabulously special.
Dreams and Fairy Tale Special.
Not terribly likely.
A new project then. The summer’s benefit play at the Littleton Little Theater might do it. While scripts that would bring in cash for Thomi’s own benefit sat gathering dust on her shelves, the one that’d given hope to a very sick little girl was the only one Thomi had any interest in. Perhaps if everyone let the memory of this disastrous affair die quickly, she could get over it sooner; get on with her life, and her career. Thomi’s sadness was almost harder to bear than was her arrogance. Which had surfaced a little more often than normally these past few months. Thanks to Charley Ascott!
A streak of lightning invaded her musings, freezing her grasp on her cart. She cast a swift scared glance toward the storefront windows. Heart stopping thunder motivated her toward the nearest checkout. Fingers trembling, she paid for her purchases, grabbed up the blue and white Corbett’s bags, and fled. But at the next deafening, dazzling display, she stopped dead in the doorway, uttering another frightened whimper as she estimated the distance from Corbett’s to where she’d parked her purple Mustang convertible. Across the street by the Green under the shade of a huge maple.
She cursed her imprudence. For a certainty, a wicked finger of lightning would zap the biggest branch from the trunk and send it crashing upon her the instant she was under it. Trapping her there and devouring her like firewood. As it had done to her friends, Terry and Frieda.
However, people expected clear exit out of the store, some exhibiting impatience with her terror. One woman even rebuked her for behaving childishly. Squelching terrible memories, Rikki scurried up the sidewalk, veering to cross over as she got up by Richmond’s Jewelers.
A tall red headed man, exiting that establishment, tucked a small package into his shirt pocket as he came out. Right smack into him, Rikki plowed, her bags flying out of her grasp, landing here and there among the puddles. Instinctively his arms encircled her, preventing her from stumbling to her knees.
Much too desperate to reach her car to be embarrassed, Rikki begged a hasty pardon, and pulled away, intending to pick up her bags and run. To her surprised consternation, he held her firmly. Gently—but firmly. The warm familiarity in his eyes, and in his smile, jolted her. Which one of her sisters did he think she was?
“Now look, this has to mean we’re destined for each other, Thomasyna! Dinner is just about a half hour away! Both of us deserve a new beginning!”
Dinner? Thomasyna? New beginning? In so short a time, Thomasyna had met this guy, and been invited out to dinner?
A thundering roll dissolved her intrigue for the story. She wanted to run, only he wouldn’t let go. Drawing her under the protection of an awning, he took possession of both her hands. That beauteous voice remarked, “You’re awfully pale, Thomi. Are you sure you’ve recovered from your fall?”
Was that the cause of her nagging uneasiness a while ago? Rikki analyzed her feelings. If Thomi wasn’t all right, she certainly would have felt it. Therefore, she replied, “I’m fine! No big deal!” with confidence.
He squeezed her fingers in rebuke, and a touch of impatience colored his tone. “Might be the next time you play too near the edge of that cliff! If your furry bodyguard hadn’t permitted a rescue, the story might’ve ended differently! And you know it!”
Only by a widening of her eyes, and the slight parting of her lips, did Rikki betray a fearful worry. Thomi often took daring chances—performed her own stunts in her films. Was this depression more serious than Thomi would admit? Was that why she’d refused to go with her to bring Lyndsay home? No, no, she would have known that, too. Wouldn’t allow herself to feel differently in that regard.
His look altered; Rikki’s heart involuntarily flipped. “Make a happy ending happier, Thomi. Come! I’ve performed a valuable service—for your family, at least! Is one dinner so much to ask!”
He smiled, and she forgot her own name. Almost forgot the storm. Thomi’d kept her senses beside this man? There was a danger staring into those sapphire blues, in permitting his wonderful voice to intoxicate her senses so deeply! In letting her hands stay within his warm clasp—his fingers massaging hers persuasively.
In about two minutes, she’d be the one having dinner with him! Then, what?
Thomi ought to appreciate his preserving their set whole! Still, there was no belittling her right to refuse. So summoning all the cold resolution she could, Rikki shook her head.
He said gently, “Thomi, I’m not my cousin!”
Ah! Enlightenment! So, that’s how she withstood his smile and his look! That Voice! Put a different cover on the book! Instead of declaring, “Well, and I’m not Thomi!” she flung back, “So, I’m supposed to fall at your feet and swear myself your most loyal slave forever!”
He regarded her strangely, but said with sincerity, “And I told you—I’d be honored!”
Rikki’s stomach knotted painfully, and not because of the storm. Her brain had as much body as the rain puddles, incapable, therefore, of counseling her. Every one of her senses wanted to enjoy the warmth of his arms, and they dreamed a little of what his kiss might be like. Unnerved by the effect he was having upon her, she stammered, “Look, I’m sorry— This just—it’s not a good time! Look, I have to go!”
She managed to wrench free of him. Deafening thunder, on the heels of a flash of lightning that seemed to zing close by, made her flinch and gasp—just as long fingers, curling around her upper arm, hauled her back under the awning.
At once he set her free, saying with disarming contriteness, “I’m sorry. I was forgetting.” A pause, then, “Your injuries are quite recent?”
Only momentarily confused, she realized he had mistaken her fearful reaction for one of pain. Thomi would never have confided in him. She didn’t either. “I have to leave!” This last display of nature had torn away most of her courage. The next one could probably take her over the edge. Unless he did first.
He caught her hand in both of his, those blue eyes irresistibly imploring. “I gave you your life. Give me just one evening!”
Oh, no, please! Don’t say it like that!
“Thomi, I promise you, the rules are always yours to make!”
Never had she seen such integrity in the gaze of any man before. Nor heard such a statement uttered in just those tones. She believed him—that he was not a thing like Charley. That he would never do anything she didn’t want done. Her lips parted to accept his dinner plea, but then her conscience pricked. It wasn’t up to her to fulfill his wish. It was up to her to escape him. Ten minutes ago!
“No! And that’s it!” With a mighty yank, she gained freedom. Forgetting her bags laying still on the wet sidewalk, Rikki dashed across the street, heedless of traffic and dove into her car. Burning rubber, she pulled away from the curb, terrified of pursuit almost more than she was of the storm.
* * *
Thomi paced the wide stone porch, anxiously awaiting her sister. Partly because she’d had enough of being in the big house alone and partly because she knew in what case Rikki was likely to be in right now. Most of the time, she hadn’t the presence of mind to even remember the code in a storm like this. Sometimes someone had to dash up to the gates and drive her car for her up to the house.
The purple Mustang appeared at the huge wrought iron gates. Just at the moment, she seemed to be in possession of her senses. The gates swung open and the car rolled through, stopped even with the walkway. Rikki dashed across it to the porch, grabbed Thomi in a frightened shuddering embrace as thunder exploded overhead and lightening teased the treetops just yards away.
A fearful sob escaped Rikki, her hold viselike on her sister. Thomi encouraged her to move inside. Her legs carried her as far the drop leaf table in the hallway by the living room entrance. Collapsing onto a ladder back chair beside it, Rikki buried her face in her hands, her whole body shaking in response to the violence of the storm and with her sobs.
Thomi left her long enough to go get the wine that would calm her and get her through the storm. Slipping a supportive arm around her, she gently, firmly, pressed a glass of sweet, potent, tomato wine to her sister’s lips. “Here, swig this down, Rikki! Oh, more than that. Come on, you’ll feel better!”
Rikki pushed away the half empty glass, drew a ragged breath. “Don’t . . . make me sleep!”
If the storm continued in its present intensity long, Thomi knew she’d be persuading Rikki to imbibe enough until she did just that. She could feel her sister’s terror building as if it were her own. However, she didn’t push it now. “Come upstairs then. You need to change.”
Surrendering to the pressure of Thomi’s fingers, Rikki went with her upstairs. She held up through a succession of rolling rumbles, but once in her room, she flopped upon her bed, hiding her face in her pillows. “Aah, ma-an . . . I hate this!”
Thomi, searching the drawers, cast her a sympathetic glance. “It’ll be over shortly.” Dragging out a pair of shorts and a blue shirt, Thomi tossed them onto the bed, hiking the drawer shut with her hip. “Here, get up! You’re soaking your spread!”
Took considerable persuasion to get her to come out of the pillows. Between the workings of the storm and the effects of the wine, Rikki fumbled her way into dry things, obliged to accept more assistance from Thomi than she liked.
Thomi smiled, said placatingly, “Well, look; one day your husband will take over for us!” She threw back the damp spread, and made Rikki lie down, found a light afghan to drape across her. Withdrawing, then, to the window seat, she sat absently watching the antics of the storm; the awesome displays not troubling her own nerves.
“I met someone who must have hopes of becoming yours!”
Thomi glanced round at her. “There’s no one—” She made an instant sound of annoyance. “Stephan Deverill!”
“Ran into him making a dash for my car. He thought I was you. I let him.” A splendid display of thunder and lightning interrupted so near it made the lights flicker and windows rattle. Her breath caught on a whimper. “Thomi, move away from the window!”
“Nothing’s going to happen to me, Rikki!”
“Oh, sure! You owe him your life!”
Thomi turned, cast her a frowning look. “Oh, that’s gonna haunt me!” She fingered the cord of the blinds, declaring with conviction, “Actually, I’d’ve been fine had he just stayed away!”
Rikki looked an inquiry, but nature’s fireworks hushed a verbal prompting. Louder and more brilliant than the last, it sent her trembling into the depths of her pillows. Thomi watched her a moment, then came to pull a pillow’s corner. “Should I get the wine?”
“Pull the shades first!”
Thomi complied. Aware Rikki struggled against hysteria, she hurried downstairs for the wine decanter and the glass. Back directly, she urged her ashen-faced sister to sit up.
“Th-thought you said it was almost over?”
Thomi smiled at her accusing tone and helped her steady a trembling hand. “Well, it can’t last forever!”
“Feels like it has!” Rikki sipped some of the wine, then let go her hold on it.
“No, drink more. That little bit won’t do any good! Rikki, you need to sleep out this storm!” With a little more wine and some conversation, she would inevitably do so. Of course, she might just become silly—a circumstance Thomi didn’t have time to handle today. Sleep had to be the objective.
“I don’t want to sleep!” Rikki pushed her hand away. “I want to hear what happened!”
“I’ll tell you,” promised Thomi. “Just drink!”
Rikki stared at the glass in front of her face and thought to protest further. But with the next crackling boom, she guzzled the wine without further complaint.
“Okay, then,” said Thomi, satisfied. “Thing is, if he hadn’t come, I wouldn’t have imagined him a target next to Charley, so I wouldn’t have heaved that rock so mightily, and my foot wouldn’t have gone over the edge—and so, neither would have I!”
Rikki stared, horrified. “And you say nothing’s going to happen to you? Amazing it hasn’t before this! Thomasyna, if he had stayed away—” She caught her breath slightly. “Which would have given me stronger hysterics, do you think—the storm . . . or your death . . .?”
“You idiot!” Thomi took her sister’s meaning precisely. Setting aside the glass, she curled up at the foot of the bed with Ming, “You’re saying you’d’ve missed me only because you can’t uncork that bottle for yourself! Poor thing! You’d’ve been left to weep and wail under the bed or somewhere all alone!”
Rikki chuckled sleepily at the truth of it. “What’ll you do when he comes back?”
“He knows I don’t want him to. And Ming’s not a fan, either. He wouldn’t try!”
“He saved your life, Thomasyna! You know he’d be honored if you committed it to him! Of course, he’s coming back!”
Despite her annoyance, Thomi looked amused. “Challenged him, too?”
“But he’s got an answer for everything! Oh-hoho, what a voice!”
“Take my place!” Thomasyna promptly invited.
“Ah, I’d like to! He’s—different. Most of the guys we’ve dated, especially those you have . . . except maybe Simon—they deserved the games we played. This one—I don’t know . . . Not telling you what to do; just saying maybe—” Rikki broke off abruptly, intimidated again by the thunder and lightning. “Maybe—” she began bravely, then stopped, looking confused. “Ah, I forgot what my maybe was!”
Thomi had a fair idea of what Rikki’s maybe was, and she replied coolly, “Don’t indulge in fantasies, Rikkayla! He’s Charley’s cousin. How different can he be?”
“You’ll never know unless you go!” murmured Rikki incorrigibly, only smiling foolishly when Thomi pinched her toes in retaliation. She couldn’t feel it. “Simon’s okay—for an older brother type, but this guy’s awesome!”
Thomi wouldn’t admit that. And before Simon, whose friendship survived despite her callous treatment, there’d been less honorable men—some of her profession, some not—whose agenda decreed that adding her name to their conquest sheets epitomized the ultimate challenge. She’d dated each of them long enough to crush that spirit of conquest. Between her unpredictable temper and the deliberate switching of identities with her sisters, they’d tucked tail and fled.
Until recently, her heart had never been affected by anything she’d done. It was sorry she’d hurt Simon. Now. He’d been safe—or at least safer. Really, she was lucky no one else had given in to their exasperation—and their passion—in the same way Charley had.
Massaging her sore arms as she spoke, she pushed up one sleeve, revealing the ugly black and blues, and reflected, “Maybe Dad was right!”
“What? That one day you’d meet your match? But they deserved it, and we thoroughly enjoyed helping you torment them . . . do it again if you asked! Can’t believe Dad meant . . . well . . . this!”
“I think he did,” responded Thomi, and then spoke her haunting guilt. “What if you’d taken my place Saturday and he’d done this to you? I’d really hate myself for that! And so will Dad when—if he finds out about this—and the money I wasted on Charley.”
Rikki appreciated her sister’s feelings on these issues. Nicholas Tollefson was not a man whose ire ought to be raised at any time. Thomi did it frequently. Sometimes without meaning to, but other times quite purposely, having challenged his authority. He’d often voiced his uncomplimentary opinion of Charley, and Thomi countered it with insolent defiance. Their respective opinion of each other wavered between fire and ice. Which had put a strain on the entire family.
“If I had fallen . . . What do you think—would people believe I’d killed myself over Charley?”
Rikki, who’d thought that very thing earlier, resisted the drowsiness. Dragging herself upon an elbow, she surveyed her sister frankly. “It might cross their minds! Did mine when Stephan refreshed your memory of your fall! You’ve roamed around here so sad.”
“And Dad will make me sadder! How am I to back the boys and him off?”
“You could remind him—again—that you are of age and on your own.”
“Oh, no, thank you! I’ll let that line go for a while—until I’m eighty-six!”
Rikki lay back down, chuckling. “Well, if he didn’t care—”
“Yeah, yeah. He wouldn’t bother! Forgive and forget would be nice, too!”
“Give it time; he does.” Rikki shifted her position in an effort to stay with it just a little longer. “His fondest wish, despite your arrogant . . . insubordinate ways, is for you . . . is for you to give up acting and go back to DreamWynd.” She struggled to sit a little more upright, hoping to speak this piece before succumbing. Shaking her head, she pressed a hand to it. “Ah, this is awful. You and Halleigh always do this to me!”
Thomi smiled and waited. Apparently, she would bypass Stage Silly and go directly to Sleep. When Rikki didn’t resume, she prompted, “Ye-es? Go back to DreamWynd . . .”
“We all love DreamWynd . . . but you—you and Geoffrey share his goals . . . his dreams. Plus you’re good with dealing with the boarders.” Which put her in mind of a matter. “Marianne McNicoll’s more than three months delinquent! She evades Dad, but you’ve always influenced her to pay up. There’s something about you and your method of–of—” She paused, her brain disinclined to cooperate.
“My method of persuasion is patience and tact—with a friendly warning! The same as yours!” said Thomi, getting up. She pressed Rikki gently back against her pillows. “Sleep. We’ll talk about this another time!”
“He’d . . . pay you more if you went back,” murmured Rikki. “But if you keep messing with his breeding stock . . . there’s going to be Hell to pay!”
Thomi merely shrugged, unmoved. “I enjoy acting, too, but he doesn’t want to hear that. He’s not been a fan of Keath’s since Mom came out on location with us to film Kate!”
Rikki’s eyes slowly closed. “Lets him know it, too! Gonna be war before Mom sees his point . . . or makes him see hers!”
“Really!” with feeling. “But I’d’ve never had this chance if Mom hadn’t talked him into letting me go with Keath in the first place.”
“Oh . . . you would have!” Rikki murmured but hadn’t the will to elaborate.
Thomi thanked her for her confidence, and then said, “Speaking of acting, I have to go down to the Little Theater to read over the script. You’ll be all right while I’m gone?”
Rikki, eyes tightly closed, considered this as thunder bellowed and lightning teased the lights. Then, sitting up, she tossed off the remainder of the wine in her glass and bade Thomi fill it once more—just in case. Settling back upon her pillows, she yanked the coverlet over her head. “Okay . . . go! Doubt if I’ll be . . . awake when . . . Halleigh calls. But hey—she’ll call back!”
“I hope she sells that miserable portrait of me!”
Rikki chuckled drowsily. “She won’t! She’ll . . . save it for your . . . wedding day!”
* * *
“This for real?” The exclamation was wholly involuntary. Thomi looked up from her copy of the script opened to the title page. Three Loves Hath Lidia Rose.
Keath Lindell finished passing out script copies to the rest of the cast, which included besides herself and his younger brother, Simon, the local talent of Vernon Parker, Jevon and Cecily Grayson, (Cecily presently dating Simon), Kelly and Kaycie Kester, Henry Dawes, and others who had lesser parts.
Keath handed a copy to Mrs. Kester, the high school drama instructor who normally directed Littleton’s Summer Productions. Mrs. Kester was thrilled, not only to have the opportunity to work again with Thomasyna—as well as to have her daughter Kaycie chosen as Thomi’s understudy—but also to work with an actor-director of Keath Lindell’s caliber. He took a seat and crossing one leg over the other, he met Thomi’s disbelieving look.
“Kate of the Oglala won’t be your mother’s only triumph,” he informed. “She has a talent for this!”
Thomi glanced at the cover of the script. “I see her full name’s here—Anetra Joelene Ellyce Royce-Wyndham Tollefson. Dad’s approved this one, then?”
Said Keath lightly, eying her with a certain look, “I think we can leave it for another time, Thomasyna. We don’t wish to bore everyone with these trivialities!” He opened his copy. “Shall we begin?”
No one appeared in the least bored by these “trivialities.” But his gentle rebuke curbed her tongue. Thomi had no wish for her family’s affairs to become household talk—at least not to the extent some of her own were. The tabloids, even a couple reputable magazines, had had plenty to say about her life of late. One had even dug up a nugget of damaging worth concerning a certain party she’d reluctantly attended with Charley.
If only she’d fallen asleep or been silly herself on that occasion! Had no clue if the allegations against her were true or made up.
Truth was, she didn’t remember a thing—except accepting Eddy’s challenge to a habanera pepper eating contest . . . washing down the fire with a concoction resembling a milkshake she couldn’t taste.
Which must have been the objective. For if she couldn’t taste it, then she might not realize right away that it’d been spiked.
Heaven preserve them from ever learning about Saturday’s events, or what had really become of those vast sums of money Charley’d sweet-talked her out of! She wouldn’t be happy to discover someone had leaked ‘family concerns’ to the media at any time. Would be mortified if it turned out she’d been the unwitting cause herself!
“All right, people,” Keath began, as pages were opened. “As you know, this is a fairy tale and a musical, which I believe you’ll find quite enjoyable! We have four weeks to prepare it! With your commitment, your hard work, we’ll put on a production we’ll be proud to be associated with—one that will draw in the crowd that’ll help Jaimee Kelmann’s family cope with her expenses. This goal in mind, Thomasyna, as our lovely Lidia Rose and Jevon, as the romantic Eric the Poet, will begin our story!”
As the script was read and different aspects discussed, Thomasyna’s instincts suspected this tale wasn’t simply from her mother’s imagination. Set in an obscure year after the manner of most fairy tales, it had, nevertheless, the feel of real. Unable to define her reason for why she felt it so, she formed the intention to question Keath about it.
However, Mrs. Kester claimed Keath’s attention afterwards, having ideas and questions about the costumes. Thomi looked, then, for Simon Lindell, the hero of the tale as Sir Anthony Bearcroft. However, Cecily, who’d coveted the role of Princess Lidia Rose, but who’d landed that of Queen Garianna, seemed awfully worried that Simon’s passion for Thomi might still flame. The instant the reading was over, she’d hurried him away. Not permitting even a good night to pass between them.
What a fool! Ah, well . . . Rikki needed to be looked in on, anyway.
Cliff Top Manor sat, as its name implied, upon the cliffs at the end of the road bearing its name. The girls’ offer, modest in comparison with others received, had found favor with the sole heir of the estate, whose ill-health prevented him from caring for it as it deserved.
Intrigued by their identical looks, their similarities, the subtle differences in their personalities, his old heart warmed to the earnest sincerity in their pledges to cherish the estate as he and his had done till now. Satisfied with their assurances, he’d bestowed his blessing upon them. While they had promised his beloved Cliff Top would never become a museum, because of Thomi’s growing popularity, it drew considerable attention, nevertheless.
Therefore, it was no surprise to Thomasyna, when she topped the hill, to find a car parked outside its gates. Such encounters could, from time to time, be an annoyance. Generally, she was friendly, seldom shrinking from confrontations, begrudging no one an autograph. Occasionally, though, turning around and coming back later was a better choice. Hiding, however, might work tonight, and she hoped her visitor would leave very soon, for Rikki’s sake. Although, likely, she was still asleep.
A narrow track ran the length of the left side of the stone and wrought iron wall that protected the house and the grounds within, and gave out onto the cliffs beyond. Thomi quickly turned onto it, hoping in the gloom of a rainy evening, her action wouldn’t be perceived. Intent upon getting safely behind the wall, she buzzed her purple convertible Mustang along the track—until she hit a deep rut she wasn’t quick enough to avoid. Slick with mud from the day’s storm, it held her fast.
“Oh, great!” Disgusted, she switched off the motor. She could maybe rock it out, but she didn’t want to call attention to herself should that green Vette drive past. She kept watch in her rearview mirror for evidence of its leaving.
And here it came.
But no—no, it was stopping!
The emerald green Corvette blocked the way out of the track, and a man got out. Eyes widening in lively horror, she bounced around in the seat to get a better look out the rear window. “Ah, you gotta be kidding . . .! It can’t be!”
Stephan Deverill strolled up and took a leisurely walk around the car. After surveying her predicament from every possible angle, he halted by her window, waiting expectantly. With irked exasperation, Thomi rolled it down part way. “If you’d only had dinner with me tonight,” he opined, gesturing toward her imprisoned wheel, “you’d’ve saved yourself this embarrassment!”
She gave a reluctant laugh, responding swiftly, “A small price to pay!”
His eyes lit with amusement, and he leaned out to cast another look at the tire buried to its hub in the hole. “Well, maybe—had it worked!” Holding her gaze with his smiling one, he reached in, unlocked her door. “Doesn’t pay to run away from me! Now come walk with me.”
“I melt in the rain!”
“A gentle mist!” He held out one hand to prove that while the other curled around her arm. Lightly. He wasn’t forgetting her injuries this time.
Still, she flinched and moved away with telling swiftness. “I melt in the rain!” she insisted with obnoxious determination.
He watched her a moment in silence, then informed her, “You’re safe without your furry bodyguard! Walk with me, Thomasyna!”
“Why are you bothering me?”
“You left behind the things you shopped for!” He flashed her an audacious grin. “Fabulous excuse for me to see you again. I’m determined not to dine alone tomorrow!”
“See! We’ve been on a first name basis for hours! Walk with me!” His smile together with his coaxing look knocked another brick out of the wall that was supposed to be protecting Heart.
Thomi made a sound of amused annoyance. “You’re wasting your time!”
Unmoved, he shrugged. “My time. I can waste it as I see fit!”
“Then, you’re wasting my time!”
Supremely serene, he answered, “But I have a right to!”
Thomi shot him up an angry resentful glance. “Look—”
“Don’t you deny it!” he told her softly. “This conversation wouldn’t be possible had I not rescued you!” He cut off her hot dispute. “Too close to the edge, Thomasyna! You ought to be more careful! Especially when your emotions are disordered!”
Disregarding that reproof, which sounded much like Rikki’s earlier, she retorted, “You don’t know a thing about my emotions!”
“You’ve been dumped; you’re hurting! Let me help you through it! Give us the chance to know each other better. All these stories about you can’t be true! And I can be,” he insisted, “the gentleman Charley apparently wasn’t. I’ve promised you the rules are yours to make.”
When had he promised that? She poised to ask it, but then it occurred to her. He must’ve vowed it to Rikki. What else had he vowed to Rikki?
“You were almost ready to say yes. Plus,” and he grinned, “I know you were wondering what my kisses might be like!”
She choked on an outraged laugh.
Thank you, Rikkayla!
Pulling out of his light hold, she slid a little away from him. “Was the storm—it scrambled my brains! I am really not interested!”
His look, his tone altered. “Look, if you fall off a horse, you get back on! I’m willing!”
“Totally different thing!”
“Not at all! Let me prove it to you!” When she flung him a look of skepticism, he went and impulsively picked her a handful of wildflowers blooming along the track. He thrust them in at her. “These flowers are growing where almost no one sees them. But your life isn’t like that. It’s in the open, bringing a great deal of pleasure to a lot of people.” Earnest blue eyes met emerald green. “You’re able to continue doing it.”
Listen, if you want me to find pleasure in working for you, go with him! Heart danced with eager anticipation and a certain desperation. Kind of like a little kid needing to pee.
Thomi switched on the ignition. “I’ve got to get my Mustang out of this canyon!”
“You know what they say about resistance!” Her swift exasperated glance made him exhort, “You’ll be loving me the instant I’ve helped you free your Mustang from this chasm!”
She rolled her eyes. “Oh, get a life!”
“I’m trying to!” he answered plaintively, walking to the back of the car to give it a push.