Once there, she glanced around, trying to envision the ten by ten room through Stone’s eyes. Faded pink walls, an antique full-sized oak bed that had been her grandparents’, the matching chest of drawers and oval-mirrored dresser. A rustic chest that her grandfather had claimed had been his grandfather’s where Carly had a few quilts and items from her childhood stored.

Not a setting of seduction or romance for sure.

She walked over to the mirror, took in her tired, haggard appearance, the scratches on her face, and frowned.

Nor was she the image of a temptress.

Ha. Far from it.

Going to the bathroom, she had the quickest shower possible, and once out put on deodorant, lotion, and brushed her teeth. She pulled the rubber band from around her ponytail and her hair fell about her shoulders, long and dark and with a hint of wave.

She pulled on a fresh pair of yoga pants and T-shirt, and then wondered whether she should wear something else. He’d only ever seen her in these, a nurse’s uniform, sweats, or shorts, and the clothes she’d changed into the night he’d taken her to Julio’s.

Walking to her closet, she opened the door, scooted aside her uniforms, and stared at the remaining bits of her former life.

The clothes seemed as foreign to her as if they’d belonged to someone else.

They had belonged to someone else. She felt nothing like the young woman who’d worn fun, fashionable clothes to class and to the social events she and Tony had attended.

Flashes of memories of concerts down by the Mississippi River, of watching the local sport teams play, of hanging on Beale Street with nothing more to do than go from one club to the next visiting with friends and laughing without a care in the world.

Then everything had changed.

It hadn’t really been sudden, just that Carly had been in denial of how bad her mother’s disease had progressed until her mother had been forced to quit work and confessed what a financial mess she was in.

Carly had begged out of the apartment she’d shared with three girls, moved home, and taken over the bills.

Taken over everything.

And not looked back.

Until Stone.

She reached out, fingered a pumpkin-colored shirt that had once been one of her favorites. She’d always gotten compliments on how it brought out the coloring of her eyes, skin, and hair, when she wore it.

Maybe she should put it on.

“You don’t need to do that.”

Carly spun. Stone stood in her bedroom doorway, watching her.

“Sorry, I would have called out, but I didn’t want to wake your mother.”

“I, uh, that’s fine.” She glanced back toward her closet, thinking she’d taken too long in trying to decide what to do.

Then again, Stone said she didn’t need to change. He was right. For what she wanted, she didn’t need clothes.

He leaned against the doorjamb and gave a crooked half-smile.

Carly closed her closet door. “Did I take too long to help you?”

“I finished repairing the loose boards, and plan to start sanding them to apply a coat or two of paint. I came in to get a glass of water, then get back to it. I think I can get most of the sanding done tonight.”

She was in her bedroom, had been contemplating seducing him, and he planned to sand?

She regarded him. A sinking feeling settled into her gut. He didn’t want her. When push had come to shove, he’d realized she wasn’t so tempting after all.

“Stop,” he ordered.

She lifted her chin a notch. “Stop what?”

“What you’re thinking. You couldn’t be further from the truth.”

“Then what is the truth?”

He raked his fingers through his hair. “I want you, Carly. A lot. What I don’t want is for you to have sex with me out of gratitude.”

“You think that’s why I…” Embarrassed, she shook her head. “You’re the one who couldn’t be further from the truth.”

“You weren’t feeling overly thankful and indebted for my helping you? Because I think you were.”

“Yes, I felt thankful for your friendship and your help, but I’m not going to have sex with a man just because he hammered a few nails into my front porch. Besides, from what little I saw, you aren’t that good of a carpenter.”

He laughed. “Thank you.”

Hands on her hips, she frowned. “For what?”

“For being appropriately outraged.”

He crossed the room and smiled down at her.

“You want me to be outraged?” she asked, trying to make sense of how he was smiling at her.

“I like your hair like this, by the way. Long, loose, free about your shoulders.”

“It gets in the way.”

“Of?” he asked, his fingers toying with the strands about her shoulders.

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