Five

Hayley did her best not to think about Nash.

Instead, she tried to make the day fun for the girls, playing as much as possible and skipping housework. Some things were more important than making sure the kitchen floor was clean enough to eat off of.

Such as playing a good game of jacks.

Or holding your pinky finger out while you sip make-believe tea.

Or wearing the correct length of boa feathers with the right dress.

And a hat, of course, Hayley thought as the wide-brimmed summer hat fell over her eyes. Kate giggled. Hayley pushed the hat back and extended her hand and the china cup.

"If you would be so kind, Miss Kimberly," she said, winking at the child. Kim poured, she and her sister sitting across from her under the shade on the back veranda, dolled up in musty old gowns their grandmother had left in a trunk for them to play dress-up. She herself wore a blue satin gown reminiscent of Audrey Hepburn, and a hat that belonged only at the Kentucky Derby. And though they'd been in the pool most of the morning, their bathing suits under the gowns, it was a day for silliness. And Hayley was just in the mood for it, avoiding all trains of thought that led to Nash and his claim that this time it was different. There was no "this time." She was sidestepping him and that talk he wanted to have. She didn't want to hear it, not a word. Because if she did, she just might fall for him again. And there was no chance of her delaying or giving up her dream.

Trying to change the direction of her thoughts, she shoved out of the chair. "We need to dance. All this tea makes a girl itchin' to wiggle."

The girls grinned as Hayley tuned the radio to a rock station. Kim and Kate scrambled off their chairs, singing and dancing, and Hayley laughed at the twins gyrating inside the too-large dresses, clunking around in heels. She joined the girls, adoring their little bumps and grinds. Oh, they're going to be heartbreakers, she thought.

"Can anyone join in or is this a private party?"

Hayley stilled and spun around to see Nash walking toward them. And what a walk it was. Did all men saunter as if they were fresh out of a spaghetti western, or only wealthy Carolina ranchers? Regardless, avoiding the man was impossible. Especially when he gave her those possessive looks that drew her insides tight. As he was now.

Determined not to let his effect on her show, she smiled. "Sure, you know the slide."

His lips quirked at the corner. "I think I can manage."

He stepped in beside her in the line dance, his smile slight, his gaze lingering on the gown his mom had worn to her high-school-graduation dance that fit Hayley in all the right places and showed off her sweet curves. He'd watched her and his daughters for a few minutes before making his presence known. It was too much fun seeing them together, being silly. He couldn't imagine Michelle getting down on the ground and playing jacks in a gown. But then, Hayley was always pretty much a free spirit. It was one of the things he'd loved about her. She was never embarrassed by doing something spontaneous or to the beat of a different drummer.

Nash smiled, aware he made her nervous. It was a new sensation, since there wasn't much that fazed her. She'd been hiding from him, and he'd given her some space. He didn't want to be a threat and he wasn't going to pressure her into anything. That was what got him into trouble before. He wanted her to understand that and relax. Any man with eyes could see how she tensed around him.

The music ended and she smiled up at him. "You always were a great dancer."

"Glad there are some good things you remember about me."

He didn't give her time to comment or remember old pain as he pulled her into his arms, spinning her across the pool deck as another song played.

The girls made noises as if they were seeing something they shouldn't.

Hayley's insides tripped, her heart jumping and reminding her how much this man could stir her with just a look. His hand was warm and sure in hers, the one around her waist like a steel band. Thighs brushed as they fell into step, dancing close and in perfect sync. He spun her out, then whipped her close to his side, and she laughed, a bright free sound he swore made the sun shine brighter.

Nash grinned when she sent the huge hat sailing into a nearby chair before their dramatic finish. The twins clapped.

"What else are you going to take off?" he said for her ears alone.

She really shouldn't, but he was asking for it, looking at her like that. It would serve him right. She stepped back and in one motion, unzipped the dress, letting it drop to her ankles. She gave him a saucy pose, then dove into the pool. The twins shrieked with laughter. Nash just stood there, stunned for a second. Hayley came up for air, smoothing her hair back and telling the girls to come join her, without the gowns.

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