I'm not sure if I just made a really savvy
move—or the biggest blunder of my life.
Present Day, the 9th of November
The bastard was late. Ava Spencer cursed the man she was
waiting on as she paced the front foyer of the Wolcott
mansion, alternately hugging herself against the cold and
trying to rub some warmth into her arms through her coat
sleeves. The place had been closed up for several weeks and
between the wind currently buffeting the mullioned windows
and the rainstorm that had blown through earlier, leaving a
Seattle centric damp-to-the-bone chill in its wake, she was
freezing her ass off.
She would've turned on the heat, but there was little
point. If the guy ever deigned to get here, she'd be
showing him the mansion from attic to wine cellar. And
while Jane kept the front parlor and hidden closet in Miss
Agnes' upstairs sitting room climate controlled for the
preservation of the Wolcott collections that weren't
currently sold or on loan to museums, it would take until
noon tomorrow to warm up the rest. And although she had
turned on every light in the house, the illusion of warmth
from the yellow glow from the lamps and overheads didn't
come close to replacing the real thing.
A laugh that went a little wild escaped her. Like
that was the crucial issue here. Because. . .It's
not some guy, Av. It's Cade Calderwood Gallari.
Jeez Marie. She couldn't believe she'd agreed to this.
So, yes, she was concentrating on the minutia for all she
was worth to keep from thinking about it. Because it was
too freaking late to second guess herself now.
She froze for an arrested second. Hell, no, it wasn't!
The heavy feeling in her stomach lightening, she snatched
up her purse and started down the hallway to the kitchen.
Its exterior door was the direct route to where she'd
parked her Beemer. Cade was late? She was out of here.
Headlights swept the east wall across from the kitchen
archway, stopping her dead. "Shit."
She did a little dance in place to shake off the muscle-
tightening tension that had her tighter than a guy wire,
throwing in some yoga-breathing for good measure. Exhaling
a final gusty breath, she nodded to herself. "Okay. Time to
pull on your big girl pants."
She forced herself to shove down her irritation over
Cade's tardiness, over the fact that he breathed,
and bury it deep. It's been thirteen years, girl. He's a
footnote, someone who no longer matters. Who hasn't
mattered for a very long time. So it probably
wouldn't do to snap his head off first thing.
But, oh, boy. The temptation.
She watched him through the back door window as he
climbed the steps and stopped beneath the porch light, and
her annoyance surged back with a vengeance. She fought it
to a standstill once more, blew out a final exhalation and
reached out to unlock the door.
The knob turned before she could open it and he blew
into the kitchen, shaking himself like a wet dog and
sending raindrops flying in all directions from his sun-
streaked brown hair. Looking beyond him, Ava saw that it
had begun to pour again.
"Man, it's wet out there!" He flashed her his trademark
Gallari smile, white teeth flashing and deep creases
bracketing his mouth. Only she noticed that this time the
blue, blue eyes glinting between dense, dark lashes
held. . .something. Wariness maybe or. . .calculation?
Something cooler and edgier than the smile that for years
had haunted her dreams.
It just bugged the hell out of her that she felt his
impact like a cattle prod to the breast bone. Why was it
like this every damn time she laid eyes on him: this
immediate, visceral one-two to the heart? It was identical
to the reaction she'd had around Teenage Cade--and even
after everything she knew about him, everything he'd
done, seeing him gave her that same hot punch to the
Well, it would be a cold, cold day in hell before she
felt the least bit tempted to act on it. She raised an
eyebrow. "And you call yourself a Seattle native?"
"I forgot how fast the rain can soak a guy up here."
She gave him a polite smile. "I suppose living in
southern California will do that to a person." She glanced
at her watch. "Shall we proceed?"
"Yeah, sure." His mouth developed an unyielding slant
that somehow looked more at home on his chapped lips than
his old smile. "Sorry I'm late. There was a wreck on I-5
and it took a while to get traffic moving again."
She nodded her acceptance of his apology and watched as
he looked around the kitchen. A small pucker of dismay
appeared between his dark eyebrows. "It's been modernized."
When Ava looked him fully in the face this time, she
found it less unsettling. "Surely you didn't expect it to
be the same as it was back in the Eighties?"
"I guess I'd hoped it would be."
"As soon as Poppy, Jane and I inherited it, we had the
awful sun room addition removed and yes, modernized the
place throughout." We were expecting to sell it, Slick,
not rent it. "But a tour is worth a dozen explanations
or descriptions, so let me show you the work we had done. I
think you'll agree our crew did a wonderful job of
preserving the spirit of the original design in their
restoration. We can start with the dining room across the
She turned, only to feel Cade wrap a hand around her
forearm to halt her. Heat seeped through the cashmere of
her coat sleeve beneath his light grasp, and she promptly
swung back around, twisting her arm free.
"Do not," she said with hard fought calm, "touch me."
Releasing her, he stepped back. "I just wanted to tell
you, before we get started, how genuinely sorry I am for
what happened back in high school. I was--"
"Forget it," she interrupted. She so did not want to
rehash the ugly details of the past with him. "I have."
"Really?" Those eloquent eyebrows rose, surprise
flashing in the depth of his cobalt eyes.
She gave him a regal nod. She'd cut him off at the knees
the other times he'd sought her out over the years to
apologize, but if acknowledging his regret would move him
along to a place where they didn't have to hash over the
past, then, fine. She'd grant him his damn redemption.
"You forgive me then?"
No. Hell, no. That would be a snowboarding
day in hell.
But she gave him a serene smile. "Let's just agree to
leave the past in the past, shall we?" Not awaiting a
response, she led him to the dining room and got down to
business. "As you can see, great care was taken in here to
preserve the integrity of the era in which the Wolcott
Mansion was built—"