George Haywood considered the last few lines he had written. He would tell Cadie the rest when he saw her in a couple of weeks. She could use some good news. He flexed his fingers, then printed neatly, "I love you, Midget." And signed it, "Pop." That nickname hadn't fitted his Cadie for years. She'd grown up to be a fine looking figure of a woman.
He sealed the envelope and tucked it into the leather book he used to log the core. He'd mail the letter in the morning. Flipping off the overhead light switch, he spun his old office chair around so he could stare into the glowing coals of the glass-fronted airtight stove that heated the shack.
He should be happier. Everything was going well. Maybe too well.
Too bad Cadie hadn't stuck it out at the School of Mines for another couple of years. Now that Pete was gone, he could use another mining engineer in the family. Still, the Banff School of Fine Arts had been the right place for Cadie. They'd be all right. At least, she hadn't married that smooth article she was engaged to last Christmas. Thank the Lord!
He looked over at the racks that held hundreds of long cylinders of rock that he and Marc had extracted from the property with the portable diamond drill rig. His weather-beaten face crinkled into a fond smile. Marc Banachek was a good one. When he'd turned up in answer to George's ad in the Almaguin News, George knew he was the man to live in the guest cabin and help him with the exploration. "Self-contained accommodation for a self-contained man." He'd been proud of the wording. And Marc had recognized himself in it.
He shivered. The cold of a subzero February night was beginning to seep into the shack. That's all it was. He and Marc and Cadie could handle whatever lay ahead. And soon, that other part of his life that had been so wrong for so long would be made right. There was a spring in his step as he left the core shack.
The main house was dark. He knew he'd left a light on in the kitchen. Probably the bulb had burned out.
A reassuring beacon of light shone from the window of Marc's study in the guest cabin. The boy was writing late again. Marc's pup gave a half-hearted woof as he passed, and Pop grinned. What a monster that little fellow was going to grow up to be!
He'd better enter by the side door. There was a light switch just inside.
Pop stepped inside, turned on the lights and was hanging his down-filled jacket on a peg inside the mudroom when he became aware he was not alone. It was just a sensation in the hairs at the back of his neck. But the door to the basement gaped wide.
"Who the devil?" he muttered, reaching to close the door.
"Just me," said an unexpected but too-familiar voice from the doorway to the laundry area behind him.
Wheeling around, George stared into dark eyes filled with hatred. He had one split second of blinding disbelief and another of devastating comprehension before a sharp blow to the solar plexus knocked him backward down the cellar stairs and into total darkness.
Marc stared glumly out the large window at the white caps building up on the windswept waters of Nighthawk Lake.
So Pop's granddaughter was actually on her way, was she? That should be no surprise. She'd been on her way up here to Nighthawk three months ago when she'd had the accident that almost killed her.
Pop had told many fond stories about Cadie's stubbornness. Well, Marcus Banachek could be just as obstinate. She would find him right here until the end of the year. He'd told her lawyer so. He had also reiterated that Arcadie Haywood was damn well going to honor his lease, just as Pop would have. Besides, with the latest Ban Marcus thriller to finish for Wyeth and Burns before the end of September, he'd need privacy to write...and quiet. He'd make sure of that. He didn't intend even to speak.
Pop's little Cadie was not his responsibility. Besides, she didn't want him to look out for her or entertain her. She wanted him to vacate the guest cabin!
He muttered the crudest epithet he could think of. He was not going to go out of his way to pander to a grieving woman still recuperating from an accident. Particularly one as attractive as Cadie Haywood. It was no longer his duty to serve and protect. It had taken him a long time to accept how futile his best efforts in that direction had been. But he had learned.
Anyway, he'd never been a nursemaid. If Arcadie Haywood was well enough to get here, she was well enough to look after herself. He'd be polite and perhaps even help her get settled in. He owed Pop that much. Besides, she might know the results of the drilling. But nothing was going to jeopardize his freedom to do exactly what he wanted to do, when he wanted to do it. He'd earned that freedom.
He saved and closed the file and shut down the computer. The text on the monitor vanished. There was no point in trying to write any more this afternoon. Cadie's lawyer, with a few businesslike words of warning, had ruined his concentration.
"Come on, Lurch," he called to the huge black dog who was lying in the doorway.
In spite of his size, Lurch was still a pup, his legs still growing so quickly that he didn't seem to have them quite coordinated. He staggered eagerly to his feet and bounced in place like an angular basketball.
"Time for a long walk. We'd better take advantage of our peaceful male refuge while we have it."
Sunlight was breaking through the clouds and trickling through the white pine branches far overhead. Patches of pale yellow light danced in the sparse undergrowth. Tiny cones and long, waxy needles crunched under his boots. Marc breathed the warm, pine-scented air. This was a far cry from the sound of sirens and the smell of exhaust fumes.
Glad of the gangly black dog's company, he strode down the long driveway, then cut off along the worn path by the old log cabin and core shack. Lurch snuffled the ground loudly and crashed through the underbrush. Marc had to laugh at his energetic cavorting. He couldn't maintain his sour mood in the face of that much bouncing joy.
"And stop bumping into me, you ugly mutt," he shouted in mock fury as Lurch apparently misjudged the distance of one of his leaps and almost knocked him over.
He had never intended to get a dog; but Lurch had been hard to ignore, hanging around the kitchen door at meal time. Of course, once Marc had fed him, the homely mutt followed him everywhere. Before he knew it, he was the sole support of an already-ninety-pound dog who worshipped him and was growing before his eyes.
Lurch's possible ancestry had been a source of great amusement to Pop. Marc could still hear his deep belly laugh. "One of the summer people probably ditched him when the cute little puppy from the Humane Society began to show signs that his Labrador retriever mommy had got too chummy with a woolly mammoth," he would say. "Look at those feet! You're going to have to build a barn to stable him."
Marc really missed the old man. They had known each other for such a short time. Only two years ago, Marc had answered his ad in the local paper. He never regretted it. The tall, stringy, old prospector with the keen hazel eyes and the strong handshake had accepted him for what he was and given him space to make his uneasy peace with what Marc knew was a cold, bleak world.
Marc hadn't pulled his weight in their relationship. Oh, he had done more than the minimum twenty hours a week of labor that Pop had made part of the rental agreement. He had worked alongside the older man, staking the claims, clearing the rough road for the all-terrain vehicles that would carry the disassembled diamond drill rig to the drill sites. Marc had actually done most of the heavy work with the drill. He hadn't, however, been able to bring himself to share Pop's dreams of finding gold. He didn't want any part of the inevitable disillusionment when those dreams crashed.
Instead, he had lost himself in the writing that saved his sanity. The characters he created were able to love, hate, seek revenge, even weep--experience all those emotions that lay rigid in the deep-freeze of his heart. More importantly, in his action-packed stories he could see that the good guys always won.
Over his objections, Pop and his son Peter insisted they give Marc a one-eighth interest in the claims in return for taking out the license that allowed them to stake additional acres. Nevertheless, he had stubbornly avoided the topic of the progress of the exploration. He should have showed a little interest. The old prospector had spent long hours in the drafty core shack wetting down the long cylinders of rock and poring over them with his magnifying glass.
While Pop was falling to his death, Marc had been less than a hundred yards away, writing happily about treachery and grisly murder. He hadn't heard a thing.
Chuck, the local Ontario Provincial Police officer, had seen no reason to suspect foul play. Marc had been the only person around that night and the only monetary tie he had with Pop was his interest in the probably worthless claims. He was even going to have to find another place to live by the end of the year. At the same time, neither of them was happy with classifying his death as accidental. However, they had been forced to accept the opinion of Pop's doctor, who felt a small stroke had caused the apparently healthy old prospector to fall to his death. No one would ever know why he'd been on the basement stairs when it happened.
That was another reason Marc refused to move away from the house. The whole situation made him distinctly uneasy. Not quite seven months after Arcadie Haywood lost her father to cancer, her grandfather had died. Then, three months later, she had narrowly missed being killed herself. No one seemed to be questioning those incidents, but Marc didn't like coincidences. Especially if the results of the drilling showed that the Nighthawk claims contained a large ore body.
The rock samples had contained enough gold for the local mining recorder to register the claims. He, Pop and Peter had celebrated the registration with high hopes and some very good whiskey. But during the week before he died, Pop had seemed more worried than elated by the results of the drilling. Marc had cynically assumed that the old man's dreams were collapsing. But the claims could be worth big money. And, if they were, there were probably greedy fingers ready to try to grab them. Unfortunately, people with greedy fingers didn't always have scruples about family ties.
Marc didn't know who would have inherited if Cadie had died in that car crash. Her Uncle Jack and his wife were the only family members at Pop's funeral last February. Marc had hoped at the time, that the lovely woman with the sad, hazel eyes wouldn't place too much trust in her loud, affable uncle.
Pop had been proud of his son, Pete, who taught at the Colorado School of Mines, a place even a cop who got his degree at night school had heard of, and of his little Cadie. But, for some reason, he had never mentioned his only surviving son. Then, there was that peculiar bequest to Jack of "the deed to a piece of moose pasture near James Bay that I am sure Jack will recognize."
Lord, Marc wished Cadie were homely or disagreeable. Maybe then he wouldn't feel so edgy about her arrival. She had barely spoken to him at the funeral, but when he closed his eyes, he had no trouble conjuring up her oval face with its pointed little chin and big, sometimes hazel, sometimes green, eyes.
He'd forced himself to live like a monk for the past two years, but Cadie's low, vibrant voice and small but definitely female body reminded his own thirty-six-year-old body it was still very much alive.
He could only pray that Arcadie Haywood prized self-sufficiency as much as her grandfather had.
"A goose walking over your grave," Pop would have said.
Marc had no idea what that meant, but it sounded ominous.
"Come, Lurch," he snapped, then turned and headed back home.
He heard a car door slam. When he reached the driveway, he spotted a Jeep Cherokee parked in front of the house. The four-wheel drive vehicle wasn't what he expected a quiet bookstore owner to drive. What stopped him dead in his tracks, though, was the sight of Cadie in the clearing beyond the house. She was twirling around with her head thrown back in obvious delight. Her bare arms were outstretched and the sunshine caught the gold highlights in her windblown hair.
His breath caught in his throat. She was so lovely and full of life.
His abrupt stop put him directly in Lurch's path. The dog careened solidly against the side of Marc's left leg. Marc felt an excruciating jolt of pain and heard the snapping sound of his trick knee popping out as he crashed to the ground.
* * *
A few minutes earlier, Cadie had switched off the Jeep's engine and sat in silent contentment for a moment. The Cherokee's new car smell suited her mood. Four hours on the highway hadn't dimmed her eagerness. She was ready to begin her new, unfettered life. She grinned. The thought of herself as a free spirit was pretty funny.
The sprawling building that hugged the top of the rocky promontory seemed to radiate a quiet welcome. With its half-log siding and silvery, weathered cedar shake roof, the house almost blended into the landscape. If it weren't for the shiny red paint on the doors, window frames and the pillars of the porch, giving it a slightly irreverent air, it would be almost too solid and homey-looking.
The sunlit clearing beside it drew her like a magnet. She had spent so many hours sketching there a few years ago when both Dad and Pop were still alive. Leaving the car door open, she moved toward the bright, open space. As she stretched her arms out, as if to embrace the whole beautiful scene, her steps became a kind of dance. Spinning slowly 'round and 'round on the patchy grass, she dismissed the fleeting thought that a woman who was almost thirty must look a little weird cavorting like this in the sunshine.
She'd discarded all those concerns about living her life to please other people. This was the up side of being alone in the world. Reminding herself to enjoy the moment, she twirled around one last time and stopped, wide-legged and slightly dizzy, to drink in the scene around her.
On the north side of the house, where the land dropped off sharply to the lake, the waves crashed on the headland just as she remembered. On the south, where it sloped gently to the sheltered beach, the water was calm and smooth. She held her breath and listened. Except for the rhythmic splashing of the waves, there was an almost tangible silence that seemed to cushion the house from the outside world.
She stretched her arms up toward the sunshine and swayed against the strong breeze that caressed her face and body. The mournful weight of the recent past slipped from her shoulders. Her fractures had healed, the ugly bruising had been replaced by a golden tan and her partner was running the bookstore back in Denver. Cadie felt free and alive. There were no unhappy memories here.
Today's drive had been easy. Her jaunty Jeep handled so differently from the low-slung station wagon that had plunged down the mountain only three months ago. She was going to enjoy wheeling it around the local bush roads looking for painting sites. Cadie was more pleased with herself than she could remember being in a long time.
A hoarse bellow of pain shattered her exultant mood.
Startled, she spun around to look down the driveway in the direction of the shouting. Just beyond the house, a man was being attacked by a huge black animal. She recognized Marcus Banachek immediately. His size and his thick shock of blond hair were unmistakable. He was cursing and trying to beat the beast off with his bare hands.
Without considering what she would do if the animal turned on her, Cadie picked up a fallen branch and ran toward them, brandishing the stick and shouting, "Get away! Get away from him!"
Her shouts blended with Marc's.
"Lurch, you maniac, down. I'm not playing. Drop!"
The animal stopped its barking and collapsed in a panting heap beside his master. Even lying still, its gaping mouth and big white teeth were impressive.
The fearsome beast was a dog. His dog. Cadie felt like a fool. Her heart was still pounding furiously and she had that stupid log in her hand. She wasn't actually afraid of dogs. She merely was more comfortable with cats and could never understand why anyone wanted to share house-space with a large, potentially vicious animal like this one. She tried to look nonchalant as she tossed the stick away.
Banachek's face was anything but welcoming. A lock of blond hair had fallen over his forehead and was hiding one of the eyes she remembered as cobalt blue. The eye she could see had chilled to the color of winter ice and his broad face was fixed in an intimidating scowl. He was so still he could have been carved of wood. For one hysterical moment, she was tempted to smooth the hair back off his forehead. She dismissed the urge as a momentary insanity in the face of finding a virtual stranger lying incapacitated at her feet.
Her eyes swept over the massive rest of him. Judging by the deep tan displayed by his short-sleeved shirt and denim cutoffs, he did not spend all his time indoors writing his violent novels about the greedy and the seedy. She caught her breath. One of his muscular legs was bent at an extremely awkward angle.
"Are you all right?" she ventured as she knelt beside him.
"No," he growled.
She could see his left knee was swelling already.
"I'd better put a splint on that before we move you," she said, getting to her feet. "I have a first aid kit in the Jeep."
He grabbed her hands. She gasped at the unexpected contact.
"Sorry," he grated out, not sounding at all apologetic. "Don't touch my knee. I know what to do for it."
"Can you stand up?"
"Yeah. Get me a strong stick to use as a cane. I can hop to the cabin from here."
"The house is closer."
His scowl deepened, but he bit out a grudging, "Right."
Not so much as a please, she fumed silently. She was tempted to tell him to get it himself, but the man was obviously in pain. Aloud, she said, "We'll get there quicker if you lean on my shoulder."
She should have been more insulted by the cool way his steely eyes deliberately assessed every inch of her perfectly adequate, five-foot-four-inch body.
"I'm stronger than I look," Cadie stated calmly, determined not to let him intimidate her. "Can we count on your hairy buddy to stay out of the way when I help you up?"
Marcus Banachek obviously did not believe in wasting words.
"Lurch," he said to the dog, "this is Arcadie."
"Cadie," she corrected, then smiled at how ridiculous that sounded. "Actually, he can call me Arcadie if he wants to. I'd like you to call me Cadie."
Hard as it was to believe, she thought she saw an answering glint of humor in his eyes.
"Marc," he returned. Then ordered, "Let him sniff your hand." Hesitantly, she offered the back of her hand to the beast who looked as if he could swallow it whole. A yard of wet tongue swiped it and the thick rope of a tail wagged.
"Lurch, stay," Marc commanded. "Okay, Cadie, let's get moving."
He positioned himself so his good foot was solidly under him and allowed her to pull him up.
My, but he was big! He looked like every little kid's idea of a policeman--tall, strong, tanned, wholesome-looking. Not to mention unbelievably sexy, she thought. But not friendly.
"You're stronger than I expected," he said with a grunt as she hauled him to his feet. He put his left arm across her shoulders. "I'll try not to put too much weight on you."
She circled his waist with one arm and placed her other hand flat against his chest to steady him if he lost his balance. She could feel the heat from his well-toned muscles and the pounding of his heart against the sensitive skin of her palm. Her perverse imagination conjured up another absolutely improbable situation where she could hold his impressive body in her arms and feel his racing heart.
She felt her own pulse speeding up. What was wrong with her? Marc was a disagreeable man she hardly knew. She was acting as if her common sense had been confiscated at the border.
It didn't take long to get Marc to the house. With a minimum of help from her, he eased himself onto the large couch in front of the freestanding circular brick fireplace that dominated the big living room. While she quickly removed his heavy hiking boots, he leaned his head on the down-cushioned back and closed his eyes.
"Thank you, Cadie." His voice was an exhausted whisper.
She rubbed the spot on her shoulder where his hand had rested. She might not have been supporting much of his weight, but she was still going to have a bruise there to remind her of his firm grip. What she didn't want to remember was her body's unexpected response to the innocent contact. The surge of warmth that set every nerve in her body on alert was a new experience for her. She'd been engaged to Jerry, but his nearness had never made her uncomfortably conscious of his masculinity. Of course, Jerry had never exuded the raw virility Marc Banachek did.
After the emotional wringer she had been through the last few months, she'd be wise to keep a safe distance from her taciturn tenant.
* * *
"Can I get you something for the pain?"
Cadie's voice was low and amazingly soothing. Her elusive scent reminded him of fresh spring flowers. Marc raised his eyelids enough to see concern in the gold-green depths of her large eyes.
"Yes," he said, conscious of how harsh and ungracious his own voice sounded. "About four ounces of scotch in a tumbler. No ice. It's in the cupboard over the sink in the kitchen."
She looked at him silently for a moment, then left without saying a word.
The woman even knew when to be quiet! He was in bad trouble. Even with the pain in his knee, during the trip down the driveway, he had been acutely aware of the smooth warmth of her bare shoulder under his hand. She must have noticed the way his heart was pounding when she had her hand on his chest. His long-dormant hormones had chosen a hell of a time to snap back to life.
When she had looked up at him to inquire how he was doing after they had covered about half the distance to the house, he'd had an irrational urge to slide his hand from her shoulder into her thick, gold-streaked hair and to kiss her until she was dizzy. He knew how her lips would taste as surely as if he'd been kissing her all his life. He hadn't done it. But, if he didn't get his mind off the taste of her, she was going to notice the tight fit of his cutoffs when she returned with the whiskey.
"Do you want it now?"
He opened his eyes slowly. Cadie was holding out the glass of scotch and staring at his misshapen knee.
"Just put it on the end table. I need you to do a couple of things first. I almost forgot I left Lurch on the 'Stay' command. All you have to do is go to the door and call, 'Lurch, okay. Come.' The 'okay' releases him. The 'come' calls him. You'd better duck, though. He comes like a bullet."
"He's...big," she said. She was no longer the fierce, little Amazon who had come to his rescue flourishing a big stick.
"Don't be afraid. He's a big marshmallow." He hadn't meant to sound so gruff. The woman needed reassuring. It was not her fault he was attracted to her. He tried to soften his voice.
"Just say 'easy' when he gets near and then 'drop'. He has too much energy but he does try to please."
Cadie leveled her shoulders and walked stiffly to the door.
"Leave the door open," he called to her. That way, if Lurch looked as if he might knock her down, Marc could at least holler at him.
She called the dog and bravely stood her ground as he approached at a gallop.
Marc held his breath.
"Easy," she said firmly.
Lurch sidled up to her, tail wagging fiercely, and licked her hand all the way to the elbow.
"Drop," she said. She turned to grin at Marc when the dog collapsed on the porch.
"Stay," she said jauntily.
When she returned to him, leaving the dog on the porch, she had a delightfully smug smile on her face.
"I can't believe he came when I called."
Every thought that went through her mind showed in those expressive eyes. Why hadn't he met her ten years ago? Well, he hadn't. Even if he had, he probably would have been looking past her at some tall, busty redhead anyway.
"Well, I'm going to give you another chance to be in control," he said, poker-faced. "I need your help to put my knee back in."
"No, thanks," she said, shaking her head. "You need a doctor for that. There must be a hospital or a clinic in the area."
"No need. I've done this before. Lots of times when I was playing football and a couple of times since. Just face away from me, swing your leg over mine, grab my ankle and hold on tight. You can do that, can't you?"
Her dubious expression told him how resistant she was to the idea. "It sounds barbaric. I'm not one of your locker room buddies."
No question about that. Marc looked at her long, slim legs and swallowed hard. He could see why she might view placing his fairly hairy leg between her thighs as too intimate. However, he knew it would bring him a certain amount of relief from the pain. His determined gaze held her wavering one until she gave him a grudging nod.
"It's against my better judgment," she muttered.
"First," he said, "I'd better down a little anesthetic."
He drank the whiskey in one large gulp.
"God, that's awful," he gasped. "Come on, honey. Time to climb aboard."
He reached over and placed his hands on her waist and turned her away from him. Cadie's back distracted him for a moment. She had one world-class derrière. The rest of her was just fine, too. She wasn't tall, but her legs were long and slim, her breasts just the right size to fill a man's hand. Cadie looked at him over her shoulder.
"Well?" she said. She glanced almost fearfully at the light coating of curly blond hair on his leg. Then, she blushed. Her lips looked soft and as if they needed kissing. This was nuts!
Marc tore his eyes away from her mouth. What was happening to his mind? It must be the liquor hitting his bloodstream. Get serious, he told himself. He had drunk the scotch to kill the pain, not to lower his inhibitions.
"Okay, swing your leg over and grab my ankle. Now hold on tight. Don't let go for anything. We're going to do it..."
He placed his right foot against her buttocks and pushed hard. "Now!" he gasped.
The momentary pain was excruciating, but the damned knee did snap back into place.
When Cadie scrambled back beside him, she gave him one long, searching look.
"I'll be right back," she said before she dashed into the kitchen.
He could hear her emptying a tray of ice cubes. In seconds, she was back with a glass of water and an ice bag she had improvised out of a hand towel. She placed the ice gently on his swollen knee.
"I have some leftover pain killers," she said, on her way out of the room again. "My purse is still in the car."
"You don't need to do that," Marc said to empty air.
His mouth twisted into an ironic smile. He had been agonizing about whether or not he was duty-bound to look after Arcadie Haywood. Now he was the one who needed help. He was going to have to stay off his feet for a while--probably two or three days. He cursed under his breath. The last time this happened, he recalled the doctor had insisted he keep the leg elevated for a week. Then he had to refrain from putting any weight on it for another ten days. However, maybe he could avoid seeing Wilf about this.
"Blast! Now I'll have to coax Vi to come in for the next couple of weeks," he thought aloud.
* * *
As she entered, carrying her purse and one of her suitcases, Cadie overheard him. Who's Vi? Of course, a man like Banachek would have a woman who would be happy to come in to make him comfortable. Why should that bother her? He was nothing to her. He was her late grandfather's tenant. But she was ridiculously glad he wasn't eager to call the unknown Vi.
"Bad habit talking to yourself," he said sheepishly when he saw her. "I guess I spend too much time alone."
"Take these," Cadie said. "They'll help."
He looked at the tablets she had placed in the palm of his hand.
"I'll be fine," he muttered. "I'll just rest here a little while. I'm feeling better already."
* * *
She had unusual eyes. There was a narrow rim of dark gray around the green and gold fire of the iris. He had never seen eyes quite like them. Right now they were locked on his with grim determination.
"The water glass is right beside you. Take them."
He didn't have the energy to fight her. He swallowed the tablets.
"You should be able to get a bit of rest now. I have to unload the Jeep and unpack my bags. I'll be back in a couple of hours to help you to the guest room." She gestured toward the room beside the one that had been hers when she'd visited Pop.
"Thanks, but my own place is just over there. I'll be fine. I just need to close my eyes for a few minutes."
"We'll see how you feel when I come back."
* * *
She was damned bossy for a complete stranger.
Cadie started toward her room, then paused. "You don't have to...go anywhere now, do you?"
She was blushing again.
"No," he said, unable to suppress a half grin that made her color a little more. "I'm okay, but thanks."
It was a long time since he had met a woman who blushed. As he watched her quick retreat, his grin softened. He could still see the grim determination on her face as she ran to his rescue with that branch. It was just his luck that Pop's little Arcadie was turning out to be one hell of a woman. She was enough to stir the ghosts of dreams that had long ago shriveled to dust. Too bad he had nothing left to offer to a woman like that.
Somehow he had to get her out of here--out of his life.
No one knew how completely the bad guys had beaten him. His sudden decision to leave the force had caught his fellow officers by surprise. In the fifteen years he'd been with the Metropolitan Toronto Police, he had gained an enviable reputation because of the high conviction rate of his arrests. It was common knowledge he was being groomed for promotion, but two years ago, he had resigned. He couldn't stomach the brutal world he worked in any longer.
When he left, he had been the leader of an investigative team that had tracked down the perpetrators of several highly publicized serial murders. The last had been particularly offensive. It had involved the murder of children. When he had looked into the expressionless eyes of the killer, the emptiness there had shaken him.
He had seen traces of that same hollowness in his own mirror. He realized, with horror, that every time he forced himself to stifle his own revulsion or compassion, he was hastened the day he would wake up to find that he, too, had become a monster incapable of human emotion.
The final straw came when the killer had been set free because a piece of crucial evidence had been declared inadmissible in court. Marc had come home early, sick at heart, to find Val, the woman who had been sharing his condo and his bed, sharing that same bed with Willy, his long-time buddy.
He should have been filled with pain and rage. But he was not. He hadn't been able to care that much. The farm boy who had been determined to help the weak and the unfortunate, was gone forever. That naïve boy had believed his motives were pure and noble, but Marc had learned the hard way that everyone was self-serving. He could see now that he'd only yearned to be admired and respected. He hadn't realized that nobility, like loyalty and love, was a myth.
That moment, he decided to quit the force. He could live on the investments he'd made with his share from the sale of the family farm and what he got for the condo for quite a while, if he was careful. Taking with him only the notes for his police novel, he escaped to Chartwell Falls.
He did believe that moments of happiness were possible, but they were rare. Sometimes, in the peace of the forest, serenity slid into a man's soul; then there was the solid satisfaction of achievement. These were dependent only on yourself.
He no longer trusted women. Men were no better. Everyone had an angle. Except Pop--except that old man with his uncompromising honesty and his big heart. Unfortunately, the hollow, self-centered man Marc had become had let him down.
He rubbed his eyes. One thing he knew for sure. He wasn't going to touch another drop of scotch while Cadie was here. It had taken two years to develop this bland detachment. It had been too hard-won to allow his suddenly rampaging hormones to destroy it.
The accident with his knee served him right. He'd been so caught up in the illusion of beauty and joy and grace that he'd allowed himself to come smack up against painful reality again.
As the painkillers took hold and he drifted off to sleep, he was vaguely aware of the scent of lilacs and the sensation of having a feather-light comforter tucked around him.
* * *
Cadie moved away from the over-sized sofa and the over-sized man on it.
So much for non-interference in each other's lives, she thought disgustedly.
Elsie would be beside herself with glee if she knew what had happened. Cadie remembered the skeptical twinkle in her best friend's blue eyes when Cadie had insisted she was simply going to ignore Marc's sexy presence.
Elsie! She had promised to call her the minute she arrived. And what she could use right now was a dose of Elsie's cheerful common sense. Elsie's I'm-just-a-fun-loving-redhead-with-nothing-more-on-my-mind-than-the-next- man-and-the-next-party act fooled a lot of people. However, many of them discovered that it was costly to take her at face value, especially when she was representing a client. She was a smart lawyer and a true friend.
She also, apparently, was waiting by the phone.
"Cadie!" she exclaimed. "You finally got there. Didn't the dealership have the Jeep waiting for you? Williams swore he'd have it ready for you."
"Everything went like a dream, Elsie," Cadie assured her. "I'm a little later than I expected because my tenant had a little accident and put his football knee out as I was arriving. It took a while to get him settled."
Elsie chortled. "So you have the gorgeous hunk at your mercy. And you'll probably have to devote some time to nursing him back to health. I feel sooo sorry for you."
"Stop it, Elsie. You know I don't want to have anything to do with any man right now. This is just going to make it harder to get him to move out right away."
"I still say Banachek is just what you need. You deserve a prime male specimen after that toad, Jerry. Go for it!"
"Did you talk to the realtor about selling Dad's house?" Cadie pointedly changed the subject.
"Yes. He's getting right on it. But your Uncle Jack called me today and insinuated you had put your real estate dealings in his hands."
"Not in this life," Cadie told her. "He's determined I'm going to let him sell Dad's house and this property at Nighthawk Lake and move to Florida to recuperate near him and Aunt Rose."
"What a great guy," Elsie drawled. "Of course, there's nothing in it for him."
"The more I see of him, the better I understand why Pop refused to see him when he turned up a couple of years ago. Dad tried to play peacemaker, but all Pop would say was, 'I told Jack thirty years ago I didn't want any part of him. I see no reason to change my mind now.'"
"What exactly does he do for a living?"
"All he ever says is, 'Buying and selling in Florida. Among other places.'"
"Well, that pins it down." Elsie paused. "How's the bod holding up after the long flight and the day's drive?"
"Couldn't be better. I'll call you again in a day or so. Right now I'd better unpack and try to get Banachek to the doctor."
"Pay attention, Cadie. Marc Banachek would be perfect for you. What could be better for a woman who owns a bookstore than an author?"
"Will you forget that?" The only reason she'd read the first Ban Marcus bestseller was that she made it a rule to read at least part of every book she sold. She'd been compelled to read it to the end, but she'd found it repulsive. She didn't like being forced to share emotions and scenes that raw. "The fact he writes ugly books about the seedy and greedy doesn't make him appealing to me. Besides, he's going to ask his girlfriend to come and look after him."
"Oh." Elsie sighed. "If that's the way it is. Anyway, you can enjoy the view. You take care. I'll let you know the minute I have any word on the house."
Cadie replace the receiver slowly. She really did not want to have to deal with Marc Banachek or his injury. She wanted him gone.
The worst part of having him laid up with a bad knee was that there was no way he could look for another place. He was just going to have to stay in the guest cabin for a while longer. She refused to consider the possibility he might have to stay in the main house.
First, I have to convince him to see a doctor. Then figure out how we're going to manage if he can't walk! she thought, shaking her head at the unfairness of fate. Whoa! Not true.
There was no we. Marc was not her responsibility. Vi, whoever she was, would have to come to look after him.
Her eyes were drawn back to Marc's sleeping figure. His rugged face looked almost vulnerable without its frown.
"He's about as vulnerable as a wounded grizzly," she whispered to herself. "Don't forget that, Cadie. And he's moving out soon. You'd better hope."