"Not so easily. " He took her hand, felt the pump of energy. And knew she felt it, too. "Not so easily, Mia. "

"Wanting you with my body means so very little. " She drew her hand from his, looked toward the cave.

"It makes me sad to be here, to remember how much more we both expected of each other, and ourselves, once. "

"Don't you believe in fresh starts?" He reached out to touch her hair. "We've both changed

. Why not take the time to get to know each other again?"

"You just want to get me into bed. "

"Oh, yeah. That goes without saying. "

She laughed, surprising them both. "More honesty. Soon I'll be speechless. "

"I'd seduce you eventually, but - "

"Seduction's overrated," she interrupted. "I'm not a jittery virgin. If I decide to sleep with you, then I'll sleep with you. "

He blew out a breath. "Well, then. It so happens I have an entire hotel at my disposal. "

" 'If' is the key word," she said mildly. "On the occasion 'if' becomes 'when,' I'll let you know. "

"I'll stay available. " To give himself a moment to steady, he bent down to pick up his sunglasses. "But what I was going to say, was that while I'd seduce you eventually, I'll settle for a friendly dinner. "

"I'm not interested in dating you. " She turned to walk back up the bluff, to the road, and he fell into step beside her.

"A civilized meal, intelligent conversation, that chance to see who we are. If you don't like calling it a date, we can call it a meeting of two of the island's prominent business owners. "

"Semantics don't change reality. " She stopped beside her car. "I'll think about it. "

"Good. " He opened the car door for her, but blocked her from getting in. "Mia - "

Stay with me, he wanted to say. I've missed you.


He shook his head, stepped back. "Drive safe. "

She went straight home, ruthlessly keeping her mind turned off as she changed into gardening clothes. Her large black cat,Isis , ribboned between her legs as she headed outside. In her greenhouse she babied and fussed over her seedlings, selected flats to set out in the sun to help them harden off before planting later in the month.

She gathered tools and set to work prepping soil.

Her daffodils were already up and dancing, and the hyacinths perfumed the air. Warm weather was beginning to tease her tulips open, and soon she imagined they'd be parading in their candy colors. She had manipulated him into kissing her, Mia admitted as she turned the earth. Once a woman knew a man's buttons, she didn't forget where to push.

She'd wanted him to hold her, she'd wanted to feel his mouth on hers. It wasn't a crime or a sin, or even a mistake, she thought now. She'd had to know. And now she did. There was still a charge between them. She couldn't claim it surprised her. Between the last kiss and this, no man had truly moved her. There'd been a time when she'd wondered if that part of her had simply died off. But the years had coated the wound, and she had recognized, even appreciated, her own sexuality.

There had been others. Interesting men, amusing men, attractive men. But none who tripped that switch inside her, opened her to that rush of feeling.

She'd learned to be content without it.

Until now.

And now what? she wondered, studying the wisteria, just greening, that scrambled over one of her arbors. Now she wanted, and had tested and believed - needed to believe - that she could take her pleasure on her own terms. And protect her heart.

She was human, wasn't she, and entitled to basic human needs?

This time she would be careful, she would be calculating, and in control. Better, always, to face a dilemma head-on than to turn your back on what wouldn't be ignored. Her wind chimes jingled, and the tune struck her as faintly mocking. She glanced over to whereIsis lay sprawled in the sun, watching her.

"And what would happen if I let him drive this train?" Mia demanded. "I wouldn't be sure of the destination, would I? But if I choose the track, I choose the station. "

The cat made a sound between a purr and a growl.

"So you say," Mia muttered. "I know exactly what I'm doing. And I believe I will have dinner with him. Here, on my turf. " She stabbed her garden spade into the soil. "When I'm damn good and ready. "

Isisrose, stuck her tail meaningfully in the air, then stalked over to watch the fish swim in gold flashes in the lily pond.

For the next few days, Mia had too much to do to think about critical cats, or having dinner with Sam, or potentially taking him to her bed. Lulu was distracted and cranky. Crankier than normal, Mia corrected. They'd squabbled twice over petty bookstore business.

Which forced Mia to admit she was a bit cranky herself. In any case, Nell's expansion proposal had lighted a fire under her and provided her with an outlet for the energy that had pumped through her since the moment on the bluff with Sam.

She met with an architect, with a contractor, with her banker, and spent several hours running figures. It didn't please her that the contractor she wanted had already committed the bulk of his time over the next few months to Sam and his renovation of guest rooms at the Magick Inn. But she tried to take it philosophically. Sam had, damn it, gotten there first.

Both the renovation and her expansion, she reminded herself, were good for the island. As the weather continued warm, she spent her free time in the gardens at home and in the beds she'd planted behind the bookstore.

"Hey. " Ripley wandered to the back garden of the store from the road. "Looks nice," she commented, scanning.

"Yes, it does. " Mia continued to plant. "The moon's been warm and yellow all week. We won't have another frost. "

Ripley pursed her lips. "Do you make that stuff up?"

"I'm setting in my cosmos, aren't I?"

"Whatever that means. Mac's got this itch to plant some stuff around the house. He's been researching the soil and the local flora and blah, blah. I told him he should just ask you. "

"He's welcome to. "

"He's going to be coming into the village sometime soon to interview Lulu for his books and stuff. He can catch you then. "

"All right. "

Tags: Nora Roberts Three Sisters Island Romance
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