“Hello,” she murmured, her gaze dropping to his naked chest and back again.
“What are you doing here?” Kit asked.
“I-I was invited.” She drew her children nearer, as if he were about to snatch them up and eat them.
“Invited by whom?”
She tilted her chin stubbornly and his attention was once again drawn to her lush mouth. “Your father. He invited us all for dinner and a swim.”
“That’s funny,” Kit said with a laugh that sounded a little too forced.
“And why is that?”
“Because this is my house.”
She blinked in surprise, a blush staining her cheeks. “Why would your father invite me to dinner at your house?”
“I don’t know. He does have a perverse sense of humor at times. And this house did belong to him. Technically, it still does, except that now I live here and he lives in a condo closer to the station.” Kit opened the door wide and motioned her inside. “Come in. I’m sure he’ll be along any second.”
She shook her head, her mahogany hair tumbling around her face. “I’m going to go. There must have been some misunderstanding. Or maybe he got caught at work.”
“No,” Kit insisted. “I’m sure my father is on his way. Follow me. The pool house is through the kitchen.”
He grabbed the bag she’d brought along, then turned and started through the foyer, trying to ignore the reaction he felt when he first looked into her pretty hazel eyes. The sound of little footsteps followed him and he smiled to himself, glad that she hadn’t left. The opportunity to spend a little time with her was an unexpected treat.
A tiny sliver of guilt shot through him and he made a silent vow to be civil. There was something about her that seemed to bring out the worst in him. All his charm virtually disappeared when he got within five feet of Roxanne.
Usually, he was a pretty smooth guy around the ladies. Though work didn’t allow for much time to date, he’d had his share of relationships over the years. But he’d always limited his scope of interest to single, unencumbered women, women who could meet him for dinner at a moment’s notice, women who didn’t have children sleeping in the next room.
He wanted to believe he was protecting his father. But now that she was here and he could smell her perfume and look into her eyes, Kit was forced to admit that maybe he was the one who was at risk. He ignored the tiny sliver of guilt he felt. After all, she’d insisted she wasn’t interested in a romantic relationship with Carl. Who was he to argue?
“Four kids,” he muttered as the little monsters ran ahead of him toward the pool.
“Wait!” Roxanne shouted. “Don’t you go near that water without me.”
In a few short steps, Kit caught up with the smallest child and scooped her up into his arms. She screamed in delight, giggling with glee. “Listen to your mother,” he whispered.
“Hi,” she cooed, sending him the sweetest smile.
Kit couldn’t help but chuckle. The little girl would be a heartbreaker when she grew up. “Taking after your mother, I see.” He held her out to Roxanne, who took her with a grateful smile. “What’s her name?”
“Jenna,” she said. “She’s two. Danny is six, Rachel is four and a half, and Michael is three.”
“Four children,” he said. “Under the age of six. That’s…brave?”
She shrugged. “We wanted four and they just came along one after the other. It didn’t seem like such a large family at the time. But then I always thought I’d be raising them with a partner.” Her expression shifted and for a moment, Kit could see the vulnerability in her eyes.
He opened the French doors into the pool room. The warm, damp air smelled of chlorine, and he was tempted to walk inside with her and the children. “Go ahead,” he said. “Enjoy yourself. I’ll give my father a call and find out when he plans to arrive.”
“Wait, I can’t do this myself,” Roxanne said. “Four children around a swimming pool wouldn’t be a problem if I were an octopus. I really could use your help. Danny is a good swimmer and Rachel will be fine if she stays in the shallow end.” She hesitated. “Would you mind?”
He was about to blurt out a sarcastic answer, but to his surprise he found himself smiling. “No. I just got out of the pool. I wouldn’t mind going back in.”
“This is incredible,” Roxanne said, glancing around the spacious glass house. “So nice on a cold night.”
“My parents bought the house when I was a kid. The pool house was all old and moldy, but I was a competitive swimmer. So this seemed like the perfect place.”
“Your father told me about your swimming. He said you have a room full of trophies.”
“What else did he tell you?”
“He doesn’t talk much about his personal life to me. He talks about you, though. He’s very proud of you.” She paused and drew a deep breath. “You have the wrong idea about me-about us. Your father has been very kind, but there’s nothing going on.”
“Are you sure?”
She frowned. “I don’t understand.”
“You know how you feel. Do you know how he feels?”
She opened her mouth as if to reply, then snapped it shut. Then she glanced over at the kids who were standing near the edge of the pool. “Come on, kids. Let’s get your jackets and clothes off before you fall in.”
He watched as her children gathered around her. Moments later, jackets were flying everywhere, shoes tumbled off and clothes fell in heaps on the tile floor. The children already wore their suits, so as soon as they shed their clothes, they were ready to go. But Roxanne spoke to them softly about their behavior and warned them that they were not to go into the water until she was there with them. She grabbed two tiny life vests from the bag she’d brought and put them on Michael and Jenna.
Then she slowly began to remove her own clothes. Kit tried not to stare, but she was completely oblivious to the effect that her little striptease was having on him. With each item she shed, Kit felt the anticipation growing. And when she was finished and stood in a sleek, black tank suit, he realized that he hadn’t drawn a breath since she started.
“This is going to be so fun,” Danny said, bouncing up and down with excitement.
Kit forced a smile as his gaze drifted over her slender body. “Yeah,” he murmured. “This is going to be so fun.”
ROXANNE SNUGGLED beneath a thick terry cloth towel, Jenna curled up in her lap, sound asleep. Michael sat beside her on the tile floor, playing with a toy boat she’d brought along in her bag. Her gaze drifted over to the pool, to Danny and Rachel, who were tossing a ball around in the shallow end with Kit.
Her gaze fixed on his naked back, on the play of muscle as he held the ball over his head. When he’d first opened the door earlier that evening, she’d had to keep herself from staring at his body, at the smooth chest and wide shoulders, at the flat belly and narrow hips. Though her ex-husband had been in shape, he hadn’t had the raw material to work with that Kit did. The tall, slender body, the long limbs and the athletic grace that made him impossible to ignore.
When she realized it was his house, she’d nearly turned around and gotten back in the car. Kit Lawrence had made his feelings for her quite clear. He didn’t approve of his father’s job offer or her presence at the station. But for some strange reason, he’d invited her inside. Then he’d tried to make the evening as comfortable as possible, ordering pizza for the kids and playing with them in the pool.
Carl had phoned just before the pizza arrived to apologize. He’d been detained at the station with some technical problem. She’d almost been happy to hear that he wouldn’t be joining them.
She glanced at the clock on the wall and noticed the late hour. “Come on, you little waterbugs,” Roxanne called. “Time to get out of the pool or you’ll start to look like prunes.”
Kit grabbed Rachel by the waist and swung her up on the edge of the pool, then did the same with Danny. They both ran over to the table and grabbed a piece of cold pizza, then sat down to munch on the leftovers. Kit strolled over to Roxanne and flopped down onto the chair next to her.
He snatched up a towel and dried his face, then glanced over at her. “I’m exhausted.”
“They take a lot of energy, don’t they?”
“I don’t know a lot about kids,” Kit admitted as he pulled a T-shirt over his head. “But they’re not so bad. In fact, they’re pretty much fun.”
“Right. Until they all have the flu at one time. Or until you’re stuck in the middle of traffic without a snack. Or until they all decide to flush their shoes down the toilet. Then call me and tell me how much fun they are,” Roxanne teased.
“You’re a good mother,” Kit said. “I can see that.”
“It feels a little strange to be competing in a contest against other mothers.” She grabbed a towel and began to dry Michael’s hair. “But the trip to Paris would be nice. And I could use the shopping spree to buy clothes for the kids.”
“I’d vote for you,” Kit murmured, his gaze locking with hers.
A tiny shiver skittered down her spine. “Well, this mother better get her kids home. Danny has school tomorrow morning and Rachel has a dentist appointment. And I’ve got to take the van in and get the muffler fixed. It’s dragging.” Roxanne tried to struggle to her feet with Jenna in her arms, but Kit reached out and gently took the little girl. “Thanks,” she said.
Roxanne quickly grabbed her jeans and tugged them over her wet suit. Then she pulled her sweater over her head and slipped her bare feet into her boots.
“There’s a changing room over there,” Kit said. “You don’t have to go away wet.”
“No, this is better. The quicker the better,” Roxanne said. “I have precisely two minutes to get my children into their clothes and shoes and jackets before they start to complain about leaving. After four minutes, the whining starts and after five there are going to be temper tantrums. So unless you want a major meltdown on your hands, I’d help me get them ready to go.”
“Tell me what to do.”
She handed him a tiny pair of blue jeans and pointed at Jenna. “I’m glad we can be friends,” she said softly.
“Is that what we are?” Kit asked.
“Well, maybe not. But at least we’re not enemies.”
“No, we aren’t,” he agreed. “And to that end, I suppose I’d better apologize for being such a jerk when we met. I’m a little overprotective when it comes to my father.”
She smiled. “Apology accepted.”
Between the two of them, they got the children dressed and packed up in about three minutes, Kit keeping them distracted with entertaining riddles so that they didn’t even realize that they were leaving. When the last boot was on and the last jacket zipped, he picked up Jenna and led them all back through the house to the front door.
They were almost out the door when Danny realized what was happening. “Why do we have to leave?” he asked. “I want to swim some more.”
“Honey, we have to get home. It’s almost bedtime.”
“It’s not my bedtime,” he said. “Why do I have to leave?”
“Because I said so,” Roxanne replied.
“Good answer,” Kit murmured. “I always liked that one.”
“But why?” Danny whined.
Roxanne grabbed her son’s hand and pulled him out to the van parked in the drive. Rachel skipped along behind her and Michael raced around to the other side, waiting for Roxanne to open the door. She got them all inside and strapped in, then took Jenna from Kit and put her in her car seat.
When she’d pulled the sliding door shut, Kit followed her around to the driver’s side. She reached for the door, but he covered her hand with his. The contact sent a flood of warmth through her body. He slowly turned her around until their eyes met. She could barely read the expression on his face beneath the feeble light from above the front door. “You-you don’t have any shoes on,” she murmured. “Aren’t your feet cold?”
He shook his head, his gaze drifting down to her mouth. When he leaned forward, she knew what was about to happen, but she couldn’t do anything to stop it. His lips met hers in a gentle kiss. At first, her impulse was to pull away, but the warmth of his mouth was so tantalizing, so surprisingly wonderful, that she stood perfectly still and allowed him to kiss her. When he drew back, she sighed softly, then opened her eyes.
A gentle snow had begun to fall and she felt the flakes melt on her cheeks. He stared down into her gaze, then reached up and smoothed his finger along her jawline. Then he touched her damp hair. “You better go,” he murmured. “You’ll catch your death out here.”
She rubbed her arms. “You’re the one without a jacket.”
“I’m not the one shivering,” he said.
A blush warmed her cheeks. “Thanks again. For dinner and for helping with the kids. You didn’t have to-”
He placed his finger on her lips and smiled. “I had fun.” He pulled the door open and helped her inside, then closed it softly behind her. As he stepped away, Roxanne turned the key in the ignition, praying that the van would start and she could drive off with him staring after her. The engine rumbled to life and she threw it into gear and steered the minivan around the circular drive.
When she reached the street, she glanced in her rearview mirror and watched him walk inside the house. Then she released a tightly held breath. A tiny smile curved her lips, still warm from his kiss.
She shifted in her seat until she could see Danny’s reflection. “Yeah, honey.”
“You kissed that man,” he said.
“Yes, I did,” she said.
Roxanne wasn’t sure of the answer herself. “I was just thanking him for letting us swim in his pool.”
“Because it was the polite thing to do.”
“Do you think if you kiss him again, he’ll invite us over again? ’Cause I really had a fun time and the pizza was good. And Mr. Lawrence is nice.”
“He is a nice man,” Roxanne said. “Mommy didn’t think so at first, but now I kind of like him.”
“YOU COULD HAVE at least told me you’d invited her. After all, I do live there.” Kit leaned back in his leather chair, kicked his feet up on the desk, and clasped his hands behind his head.
His father looked unapologetic. “I knew you’d be home. And she’d already told her kids they were going swimming. I didn’t want to disappoint them. Hey, I remember when you were a kid and I broke a promise. I’d hear about it for days.”
“You could have told me,” Kit repeated. “And what was so important that you had to stay at the station?”
“We had problems with the transmitter. We had dead air for seventeen seconds. It was an emergency. By the time everything got fixed, it was ten. I figured she’d be home by then anyway. I sent her a dozen roses this morning.”
Kit slid his feet off the desk and leaned forward. “Roses?”