Page 14 of Sinful Temptation

On the one hand, the workout was an excruciating punishment, bordering on torture. On the other hand, this was the perfect exercise to keep the rising frustration at bay.

It was either run or throw back his head and roar until his head cleared.

Since he didn’t fancy an involuntary trip to Bellevue for overnight evaluation, he ran.

They were only letters, Tony. I’d’ve done the same for any soldier.

That’s what Talia had told him. Translation? He wasn’t special, and the shared connection forged through those letters had been a beautiful mirage carved out of his overactive imagination, nothing more.

So that was it, then.

That was the end of his crazy fantasies about Talia falling into his arms and then…

What, Tony? asked a mocking little voice inside his head.

What, exactly, did you see happening then?

He squinted and strained, trying to get his mind’s eye to focus a little, maybe tell him what it’d had in mind for him and Talia, but he couldn’t see it, and it didn’t matter anyway. Whatever it was, it wouldn’t happen. Ever.

His feet pounding, he dodged and wove, avoiding strollers, walkers and other joggers, all of whom were moving too slow and needed to get the hell out of his way.

He’d wanted to know whether he and Talia had a chance. Now he knew, and, though the knowledge was painful, it was better than not knowing.

Well, no. He’d already known, hadn’t he? What else could that refused letter have meant, dumbshit? I’m waiting for you with open arms? Yeah, right. He should’ve saved himself the train fare for the humiliating trip into the city, but, oh well. Lesson learned, and better late than never. The end.

That’s what he told himself, anyway.

Deep inside, though, he couldn’t force himself to accept it.

Which was why he kept running.

He was rounding the curve nearest the Metropolitan Museum of Art when his cell phone vibrated inside his shorts pocket. Thinking—desperately hoping—it might be Talia, he snatched it, punched the button and had it up to his ear before he remembered: she doesn’t have your cell number.

Dumbshit.

“Yeah,” he snarled, still running.

“This is your sister,” answered Arianna’s dry voice.

While this was better than a call from, say, the IRS with concerns about his most recent tax return, he still wasn’t in a mood for talking. “Hey.”

“Have I offended you somehow?”

Right now, the whole stinking world offended him.

“Nope,” he said, swerving around a dog that was sniffing at his legs, wanting to say hi as he passed.

“Because you don’t sound too happy to hear my lovely voice.”

“Sorry,” he puffed. “Bad morning.”

“What’re you doing? Hauling logs?”

“Jogging. In Central Park.”

“Um…okay. I feel like I should hang up and get 9-1-1 on the line…”

“I’ll be okay. What’s up?”

There was a long pause. “I was just checking in. I don’t want to take the baby on any airplanes just yet with all those rampant germs, so I think it’ll be another week or so before we’re ready to come visit, sunshine. At which point I hope you have a better attitude than the one you have now.”

That did it. Few things had ever brought him to heel like a guilt trip from Arianna, with whom he’d always been close. They’d had a joyous reunion   a few weeks ago, right after his return from overseas, when he’d flown to Columbus to see her after the birth of her first child, a daughter. Arianna didn’t deserve his gruffness. God knew she wasn’t the one who’d smashed his hopes to bits.

“Sorry.” He slowed down and dropped onto the nearest empty bench, where he doubled up and tried to get his breath. “It’s not your fault I’m being a, ah—”

“Grouchy SOB?” she supplied helpfully. “What’s got you all bent out of shape?”

He opened his mouth and out popped the automatic denial. “It’s nothing.”

“Hmm.” Arianna, as usual, read between the lines and came up with the right answer. If he believed in reincarnation, he’d put his money on her having been a bloodhound in a past life. “Or should I say, who’s got you all bent out of shape?”

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