Kara MacAllister paced the floor of her mother's
blue–sprigged bedroom, frustration and grief
shredding her insides as rain slashed at the windows.
"Kara, honey." Her mom's words sounded pained and
slurred as she eased out of another drug–induced
nap. "Why don't you hire a nurse?" The same question every
"No nurse, Mom." Kara's heart shriveled as she met
her mother's pain–filled gaze. Propped up on thick
pillows stuffed into white, lace–trimmed pillowcases,
her mother looked twenty years older than she had just a
few months ago. Her once full cheeks lay sunken in a pool
of skin, the pasty gray of the terminally ill. The doctors
had opened her up to remove a tumor on her left lung only
to close her back up and send her home to die. A few weeks,
they'd said. Maybe a month. That was two weeks ago.
It felt like two lifetimes.
"But your job, honey. You'll lose your job."
Kara squeezed her mother's thin hand. "It's okay,
Mom. I found someone to cover my class until I get back."
If she went back. For nine years, ever since high school,
she'd been content to stay in tiny Spearsville, Missouri,
to share the old farm house with her mom, and teach
preschool in the basement of the local church. Maybe it
wasn't the most exciting life, but her mom had begged her
to stay and she'd been okay with it. Even happy.
Until three months ago. Two days after Christmas,
she'd woken up a frustrated bundle of restlessness as if
overnight she'd developed a chronic, severe case of PMS.
Everything annoyed her all of a sudden. Her boyfriend, her
friends, her life, even the preschoolers she adored. She'd
felt as if she needed something, but didn't have a clue
The only thing she knew for certain was her
mother's dying wasn't it.
Her mom squeezed her hand, her grip weaker even
than yesterday. "I want you to...have fun, honey. Not watch
Fun. As if she could possibly enjoy herself doing
anything under these circumstances. Kara leaned down and
kissed a fragile cheek. "I love you, Mom. I'm right where I
want to be." For now.
Her mother was all the family she had, all the
family she'd ever had, and her cancer was killing them
both. If only Kara could share with her a bit of her own
remarkable health. It was so unfair. Kara was never sick.
And her mom lay dying.
She rose, unable to remain still a moment
longer. "I'm going to heat some soup and make a batch of
blueberry muffins. After dinner we can watch a movie. How's
On her way out of the room, Kara reached for the
television on the dresser and flipped on the local news.
Glancing back, she caught her mother's sad smile twisting
It wasn't fair. She slammed the heel of her fist
against the blue painted wall as she started down the
stairs. Her mom didn't deserve this. She didn't deserve
Kara blinked back the film of moisture that
suddenly clouded her eyes. In a few weeks time, she'd be
all alone. Orphaned.
Could you call it orphaned at twenty–seven?
The sun had set while Kara was upstairs and the
main level of the old farmhouse was shadowed with dusk. But
she'd grown up in this house, lived here all her life, and
could find her way blindfolded.
She slipped into the dark kitchen...and froze.
Silhouetted against the thin gray light coming
through the back window was the dark form of a man inside
Her heart rushed to her throat. Her stomach buckled
beneath the slam of fear even as her logical mind
screeched, It's just a neighbor. But when she flipped the
light switch, the sight that met her gaze beneath the
fluorescent strips did nothing to dispel her terror.
He was huge, well over six feet tall, with broad
shoulders and thick, bulging biceps. Tawny hair hung in
waves to his shoulders framing a hard face and cold
amber–colored eyes. With his dress pants and
expensive–looking shirt, he could never pass as one
of the local farmers even if she hadn't known everyone
within a ten mile radius of town. This man was a total, and
"What do you want?" Her words came out breathy,
forced around the constriction in her throat.
Her mind screamed, Run! But she couldn't. Not with
her mother upstairs and helpless. Heart thundering, she
gathered every last scrap of her courage, rose to her full
five foot five and lifted her chin.
"Get out of my house."
A single, tawny eyebrow rose. "Bare your right
Kara gaped at him as the full realization of his
intent sent her pulse into a grinding thud in her ears.
As if reading her mind, the man rolled his eyes
with an exasperated grunt. "I'm not going to hurt you."
Kara choked out a laugh. "Right. You just want to
see my breast, then you'll go."
"Something like that."
She stared at him, her terrified mind grasping for
a plan. Any plan.
He started toward her. Kara lunged for the knife
rack, but as her fingers curled around the handle of a
small paring knife, the stranger closed the distance
between them. He hauled her against his chest, face to
pecs, his large hand clamping around her wrist,
Swallowing a scream, she struggled against his
iron–like hold, but she might as well have been a fly
in a spider web for all the good it did her. He was too
strong. Kara tried to kick him, to knee him, but he only
pressed her against the counter, his hips tight against
hers as he towered over her.
Terror flashed in her mind like an explosion of
light. He was going to rape her. Murder her.
Her pulse began to slow, the terror slipping away
as if someone had opened a drain in her head. Even her
shallow, desperate breathing evened out as if she'd
suddenly, inexplicably, lost her fear of the huge man.
He eased the knife from her hand and returned it to
the knife block. "I'm calming you."
And that's exactly what it felt like, she realized.
A strange, unnatural calm settling over her as if an
invisible hand were squashing her fear.
"How?" Though the word rang incredulous in her
head, her tone, as it left her lips, was one of simple
This wasn't right. He shouldn't have this kind of
control over her. Her pulse tried to leap fearfully, but
was instantly stroked into complaisance.
"Stop it." She needed to be afraid of him. He
overpowered her. Overwhelmed her. Her senses swam in his
nearness, in the elemental scent of wind and earth and
pure, raw male. The intoxicating blend teased and
tantalized, sending the blood rushing to the surface of her
skin in a hot flush of awareness. An awareness that
"Let me go."
"I'm not going to harm you. I need to know that
you're the one I'm looking for."
He stepped back, putting a slight distance between
them even as he kept tight hold of her wrist. Feeling
utterly detached, she watched him reach for her with his
free hand, felt the pad of his finger slide down her upper
chest to hook into the top of her scoop–neck tee and
His eyes flared, those well–sculpted lips
compressing as his thumb brushed over the flesh rising
above the lace of her bra, tracing the odd stretch marks
she'd noticed for the first time around Christmas.
Her gaze caught on his lips, mesmerized by their
perfect fullness as a single, disturbing emotion finally
broke free of his unnatural control to sweep her imprisoned
body. Lust. Delicious fire skimmed over her skin, burrowing
deep into her bones and blood, rushing straight down to her
He released her shirt as if he'd been burned and
met her gaze, his own cool and shuttered. "You are the
"I'm the what?" She stared at him, trying to make
sense of his words. Of any of this. "What do you want?"
Those amber eyes glowed with a dark determination
that would have made her heart pound if he weren't tamping
her emotions. He slid his free hand over her jaw, his palm
rough and calloused, his touch not ungentle as his
forefinger hooked around the back of her jaw, coming to
rest beneath her ear.
"What do you want?"
The sudden, sharp pressure at the base of her ear
stole her thoughts and vision, sending Kara tumbling into a
dark, unconscious abyss.