She shoved her legs into her wet overalls, which meant her foot got stuck halfway in and she had to hobble around or fall on her ass. Her bra was still floating in the pool so she skipped that, too, and shoved her arms into her still inside-out shirt.
“I am leaving now.”
She got all the way home before she realized she’d forgotten her boots, too.
KYLIE WALKED into her office the next morning and found her bra and panties, dry and neatly folded, on her desk. No note.
None required, she thought grimly, staring at the plain white, serviceable bra and panties as she sank to her chair. The sexiest, most intelligent and startlingly intuitive man on earth fancied himself in love with her.
Her own little miracle, that.
And her own nightmare.
“Good morning, honey.” Daisy, dressed in a pink suit with matching fingernails and toenails, and a little matching purse, smiled sweetly as she entered. As usual, every hair was in place, and she looked incredible.
A feat her daughter had never managed.
“Do you have a minute?” Daisy asked.
“No, actually, I-”
“Don’t ask her if she has a minute,” Lou scolded, coming in behind Daisy, looking just as spectacularly put together as her daughter, though her finger and toenails were cherry red. “She never has a minute.”
“Be quiet, and welcome to This Is Your Sucky Life.”
Kylie blinked. “What?”
Lou shut the door. “What happened last night?”
Kylie’s stomach dropped. “Nothing.” Besides hot and wild sex in Wade’s pool. “Why?”
“Because your bra and panties got here before you did.”
Kylie grabbed the underwear in question and shoved it in her drawer. “I…lost them.”
“At Wade’s house?” Daisy smiled kindly when Kylie frowned. “Should we have the birds and the bees talk again, honey? Because-”
“Mom!” Kylie scrubbed her hands over her face. “I remember the talk. Jeez!”
“So do you love him?”
“Love him? What are you talking about?” But she knew, God help her, she knew.
She had no idea what Wade saw in her, she was a tomboy who forgot to comb her hair half the time, she was grumpy and ornery, and she didn’t have a soft spot to her.
And yet he loved her.
A serious problem, because she didn’t know how she felt in return. And yet if this stomach-in-her-toes, heart-on-its-side, can’t-eat-can’t-sleep feeling meant she loved him back, she didn’t know how she could live through it.
“Sit down, dear, you’re looking pale.” Lou pushed her into a chair. “Here’s what’s wrong. One, you work too hard. Two, you don’t smile enough. Three, you have people who love you, and you snarl at them instead of loving them back. Four, you have the most gorgeous hunk on the entire planet mooning after you and it takes you six months to notice-”
“Grandma. What is this?”
“I told you, I’m giving you the quickie version of This Is Your Sucky Life.” She turned to Daisy. “Tell me the truth, she’s the mailman’s child, right? You adopted her. You didn’t really have this alien.”
Kylie groaned and covered her face.
“What your grandma is trying to say, is that it’s okay you made love with Wade,” Daisy said. “We know you love us, and we think maybe you love him, too. It’s okay to love people, Kylie. It’s okay to lean on someone once in a while-”
“Lean on someone?” Kylie started to laugh, then realized she was close to tears and bit her lip. “Mom, it’s just that I can’t handle someone else leaning on me.”
“Why I ought to take you over my knee!” Lou said. “Sure, you run the business. And sure you’re more mature than we are. And okay, yes, maybe you’re even smarter, but Kylie Ann Birmingham, this taking care of people crap goes both ways. Who makes sure you actually eat once in a while? Your mother. Who makes sure you actually laugh once in a while? Who makes sure you stop and smell the flowers? Me, thank you very much.”
Kylie opened her eyes and looked into the two pairs of baby blues watching her so anxiously despite the levity in her grandma’s voice. They cared. They cared deeply. Why had she ever doubted that? “Look, I-”
“Just say you’re sorry and that you’ve been an idiot,” Lou said. “Go on, say it.”
“Okay, maybe I’ve been a bit of an-”
“Idiot,” Grandma filled in helpfully.
“Idiot,” Kylie agreed, rolling her eyes.
“No doubt there,” her grandmother agreed. “A complete idiot. Now. Forget about us and go get your man.”
Go get her man. Yeah. Shocking, but she liked the sound of that. But first she turned to Daisy. “Mom. I love you. I know I don’t say it enough, but I really do.”
Daisy’s eyes filled.
“Yeah, yeah. Love, love, love.” Lou pushed Kylie toward the door. “You have a man to catch.”
“I love you, too, Grandma.”
Lou’s eyes filled, as well. “If you’re going to go soft now, you’re wasting it on the wrong person,” she said, her voice suspiciously wobbly, and shoved Kylie out of her own office.
Kylie smiled, her heart feeling…light. Then her own office door shut in her face, and just as it did, she heard her grandma say, “I love you, too, even if you are an alien.”
WADE WOKE UP ALONE. He’d woken up alone a thousand mornings before, but this morning, for the first time ever, it didn’t feel right.
Kylie should have stayed. Should have been in his arms all night, blinking sleepy, sexy eyes at him. Then he’d have shown her what mornings were good for.
If he knew her, and he was quite certain he did, she’d ignore him today. She’d bury herself in work and pretend nothing was different.
When everything was different.
He walked from his office, braced, knowing he’d be facing a ten-foot brick wall when it came to Kylie, and dreading it. Damn it, if he could face his feelings for her, then she should have to do the same.
And she did have feelings. He didn’t care what she admitted out loud, he’d made love to her now, he’d seen how she looked at him, how she’d lost herself in his touch.
If nothing else, she wanted his body. Good news, but it wasn’t enough.
Walking through the maintenance hangar, he sighed heavily, disgusted with himself, because since when hadn’t lust been enough for him?
Since now, apparently. Since Kylie.
And then he noticed, someone had opened up one of his planes. With a frown, he headed toward it and stepped onboard.
And nearly swallowed his tongue.
Kylie stood there…in a dress. And not any regular dress, either, but the knock-’em-dead, formfitting, flowery number from the photo shoot. Her hair had been styled, her lips glossed, and when she saw him, she…smiled.
She didn’t ignore him, didn’t snarl at him, she simply kept smiling.
“I’m…sorry,” he said, his voice a little hoarse. “I think I’ve entered the wrong plane.” He turned away, and she let out a little laugh.
He turned back to her. “My God, Kylie, you look beautiful.”
“It’s the same dress because…” She laughed again. “Well, it’s the only one I have.” She held a file, and suddenly she shoved it at him. “Here.”
He realized she had music on, not her usual hard rock, but something soft and romantic. She had a cooler opened with sodas in it. And she had a look to her face… If he didn’t know better he’d think she was trying to seduce him. “What’s this?” he said, opening the file.
Inhaling deeply, she clasped her fingers in front of her. “It’s a proposal.” She took a step closer, nearly tripped on her heels, swore roughly, then forced a smile. “For you.”
Watching this rough and tumble woman trying so hard to be soft and sexy made him want to both laugh and grab her. Grabbing her won out, and he reached for her, but she stepped back. “It’s a proposal,” she repeated. “For the very thing you’ve wanted.”
Blankly he stared down at the file, remembering only that he wanted her. But Kylie wouldn’t fit into this file.
“I’ve learned something about myself these past weeks,” she said quietly, her fingers turning white as she twisted them together. “I need people in my life. I need you in my life. And I’m ready to admit it out loud.”
Shocked, he stared at her. Was she saying what he hoped she was saying? “You…need me?”
“I need your expertise, I need your business savvy. I need you, the airport needs you. I’m just sorry it took me so long. So…” She drew another deep breath. “Will you buy into the airport as you’ve wanted? Will you become my business partner?”
When he didn’t answer, Kylie let out a slow breath. “Did you change your mind?”
“On what, Kylie?”
Why was he looking at her like that, she wondered, his eyes all dark and inscrutable? His mouth grim? His body language looking as if maybe he wanted to strangle her? “On…being my business partner.”
“Yes. Yes, actually, I did change my mind. I don’t want to be your business partner.”
What? What? How could he do this to her? Taking the last step between them, she stabbed his chest with her finger, hard. The sinewy strength of him didn’t give an inch, so she stabbed harder. “You’ve been after me all year for a piece of this place, and now, suddenly, when I’m the one asking, you don’t want a part of it?”
Oh, but she wasn’t done. She stabbed him again. “You wanted this. You said so-”
“Now,” he said, and grabbed Kylie. He settled his hands on her waist and whipped them both around so she was the one backed to the closed door. “We were discussing something very important.”
“No, I was discussing and you were rejecting.”
“Not rejecting. Negotiating.”
“What kind of negotiation is no, Wade?”
“I don’t want to be just your business partner,” he said, still holding on to her, still making her yearn and burn with just his hands and his eyes. “I want to be your husband.”
“You…” The air whooshed from her lungs. Her heart stopped. “Oh my God.”
“Yeah. So…Kylie Birmingham, will you marry me? For better or worse, through sickness and in health, through grumpy moods and business deals and meddling relations?”
Kylie opened her mouth, then shut it. Then opened it again. “You never said anything about marriage,” she managed to whisper through the terrible burning in her throat.
“I just did.”
“Yeah.” She cleared her throat, then lost her breath when Wade ran his hands up her body to cup her face.
“I love you,” he said quietly. “Does that help?”
It did, if the hope and joy and heart-thumping desire pumping through her meant anything. “I think so.” Suddenly feeling light and carefree, she slid her arms around his neck. “Know what?”
A small smile curved his mouth. “What, baby?”
“I love you back.”
His eyes softened, and so did his mouth as he gently, tenderly set it to hers. “So the answer is yes?”
She opened her mouth, but someone pounded on the door.
“Go away,” yelled Kylie.
“But that’s what I need to tell you, I have to leave early!”
At Daisy’s voice, Kylie rolled her gaze heavenward. “Mom, I’m a little busy, can’t you give me a few more minutes here?”
“Honey, I just found out I didn’t win the trip to Paris.”
Oh, damn. “Mom, I’m really sorry,” she said through the door. “I know how much it meant to you, but-”
“Never mind, it doesn’t matter. That’s what I wanted to tell you, I just found a hell of a deal on a travel site on the Web. Your grandma and I are leaving today. Can we have two weeks off?”
Kylie looked into Wade’s laughing eyes. “You know what? Go for it.”
“We’ll wait until they get back to go on our honeymoon,” Wade whispered, and her heart soared.
“You’re taking me to Paris on our honeymoon?” she whispered back.
“Is there anywhere else?”
Laughing, Kylie leaned away from the door and hugged him. They were still hugging and kissing when the door opened behind them.
“Oh my,” Daisy said. “I’m sorry.”
“Mom, we’re getting married.”
“You’re…” Daisy looked faint. “Can you say that again?”
Kylie grinned, feeling a little faint herself. “We’re getting married.”
“You wouldn’t tease an old woman, right?”
“You’re not old, and I’m not teasing you.”
Daisy looked to Wade for confirmation, and he nodded. She hugged them both, sniffling loudly. “So you can take care of my baby while I’m gone,” she said to Wade.
Kylie shook her head. “Mom, I can take care of myself.”
“I’ll be glad to take care of her,” Wade said, squeezing Kylie gently.
The reporter was behind Daisy, with tears in her eyes. “That’s so beautiful.”
Kylie thought so, too. She looked at Wade. “You know, that all happened so fast…do you think you could ask me again? Just so I can hear it one more time?”
The reporter lifted the tape recorder. “Oh, no need! I got it all on tape. You can listen to it whenever you want. In fact, you can listen to it all the way to Paris.”
Contest Winner Announced!
Margaret Milford of Buffalo, N.Y., the mother of two-year-old quadruplets, has been chosen Family Voyager’s Mother of the Year! She wins a trip for two to Paris, along with a five-thousand dollar shopping spree.
“My husband and I are dancing the macarena!” Mrs. Milford said after being notified of her selection. She was picked by the editors of Family Voyager from among nine finalists.
A tenth finalist, Jody Reilly of Everett Landing, Texas, withdrew after marrying FV publisher Callum Fox-click on Wedding Festivities to see photos of their hometown ceremony.
Mrs. Milford said she’s planning to leave the quads, Mary, Max, Molly and Manny, with her mother-in-law. “Sam and I want to rekindle our romance on the trip. We might also catch up on our sleep, although I wouldn’t count on it.”
FV photographers will accompany the couple to Paris. You can follow their adventures on this Web site, and read about them in our print edition.
Congratulations to the Milfords!
Kate Hoffmann started reading romance when she was an elementary school music teacher. She began writing romance when she was an advertising copywriter. And in 1993, the year her first Temptation novel was published, she quit the nine-to-five world and became a full-time romance writer. Since then, Kate has published more than thirty stories with Harlequin, including Temptation, Duets, continuity series and anthologies. Kate lives in Wisconsin with her three cats and her computer. When she’s not writing, she enjoys gardening, golfing and genealogy.
USA TODAY bestselling author Jacqueline Diamond began her career as an Associated Press reporter and television columnist in Los Angeles, and has interviewed hundreds of celebrities. Now a full-time fiction writer, she has sold over sixty novels that span romance, suspense and fantasy. Though she was born in Texas and raised in Nashville and Louisville, home is now in Southern California. She and her husband are the parents of two sons.
Jill Shalvis has been making up stories since she could hold a pencil. Now, thankfully, she gets to do it for a living, and doesn’t plan to ever stop. She is the bestselling, award-winning author of over two dozen novels. She’s hit the Waldenbooks bestsellers list, is a 2000 RITA® Award nominee and a two-time National Reader’s Choice Award winner. Jill has been nominated for a Romantic Times Career Achievement Award in Romantic Comedy, Best Duets and Best Temptation.