Olivia checked her watch. It was close to eleven and too late to return his call. Anyway, he’d kept her waiting all week; she’d keep him guessing until morning. As she readied for bed, Olivia was smiling.

Maryellen wanted to kick herself for coming up with this ridiculous “swap meet for men” idea. It’d all started out innocently enough with her mentioning the article she’d read about that town in Ireland. Next thing she knew, she was part of the party-planning. By her following nail appointment, this Halloween get-together had gathered momentum to the point that she’d lost count of how many people were attending.

“You’re still bringing that chef friend of yours, aren’t you?” Terri asked. Maryellen had barely sat down when Terri started grilling her with questions she couldn’t answer about Jon.

“Like I said, he’s just a friend—no,” she amended. “Jon’s more of a business acquaintance. And he hasn’t given me an answer yet.”

“Oh.” Terri sounded disappointed. “So you don’t know if he’s coming or not?”

“I can’t say for sure.” She hadn’t talked to him since that initial conversation a week ago. “If he’s not there, I’ll make sure you get introduced some other time.”

Terri’s dark eyes lit up. “Great.”

The following evening—Halloween night—Maryellen stood in the darkest, creepiest corner of the decorated bar with a fake spider dangling from the ceiling directly above her. More than ever, she felt convinced that this had all been a mistake. The room was crowded with maybe a hundred men and women, some in costume, some not.

Then without warning, without her seeing him arrive, Jon was standing next to her. He held a frosty mug of beer. “Hi,” he said, looking out over the crowded room.

“You came.” Now that was brilliant. Nothing like stating the obvious. “I mean…you didn’t call me back and when I didn’t hear, I assumed you wouldn’t show up.”

“I should’ve phoned, but I wanted to make sure I could get the evening off first.”

“It’s all right—don’t apologize.” He hadn’t but…

“Between the restaurant and my photography, I’ve been working a lot of hours. Sometimes I lose track of time.”

An artist’s working habits weren’t new to Maryellen. “I understand.”

He took a sip of beer. “Can I get you anything?”

“I’m fine, thanks.” Then, glancing around the room, she saw Terri, who’d dressed as Cleopatra complete with heavy eye makeup and black wig. “There’s the woman I wanted you to meet.”

“All right,” Jon said, following as she wove her way through the crowd.

“Terri,” Maryellen said, interrupting the other woman’s conversation with someone—male or female?—dressed as a wizard in voluminous robes. “This is Jon, the man I was telling you about.”

“Hello, Jon,” Terri returned, as though she’d waited her entire life for precisely this moment. The wizard, having lost her attention, drifted off.

“Pleased to meet you, Terri,” Jon said.

“I hear you’re a chef.” Terri edged closer to him, and Maryellen could see she’d already had more than enough to drink. She bit her lip, wanting to suggest that it might be best if they talked another time. “I know my way around a kitchen, too. Want to stir up something together?”

“That might be interesting.” Jon took another sip of beer, and Maryellen could see he was trying hard to disguise a smile.

“Maryellen said you also take pictures.”

“I do a little of that on the side.”

“Actually, Jon’s a brilliant photographer,” Maryellen rushed to explain, mortified at what he must think.

Trying not to be conspicuous about it, she wandered away and eventually returned to her protective corner. She wasn’t there long before Jon joined her.

“So, Terri’s the woman you wanted to set me up with?” he asked.

“Have you ever done something you regret?” she asked. “I’m afraid this is one of those situations.”

He nodded, but didn’t respond, and they stood in silence for a few minutes.

Someone put a bunch of quarters in the jukebox, and the music started. Several couples formed an impromptu dance floor. Jon made a sweeping gesture. “Shall we?”

Jon didn’t give her a chance to object. He put his beer aside and gently pulled her into his arms.

He felt strong and solid against her, but Maryellen was having none of it. “I don’t think we should,” she said, her posture rigid. She didn’t want Jon to hold her, didn’t want this relationship to be anything but professional. Yet she recognized that she’d broken her own rule in calling him, inviting him here—in acknowledging her attraction to Jon Bowman.

“Relax,” he whispered close to her ear.

“I can’t.”

“Why not?”

She sighed. “It’s a long story. Jon, I’m serious, this isn’t a good idea.”

“One dance,” he said. “Okay? Think of it as your penance for setting me up with your friend.”

Refusing would be ungracious. “Okay,” she agreed, but reluctantly. She tried to keep her distance, although it was difficult with Jon’s arms around her, urging her closer. The song was that slow-dance classic, “Cherish,” and she couldn’t help feeling affected. If Jon wasn’t so gentle and warm and considerate, it would’ve been easier to maintain her reserve. She began to relax in his embrace.

“Better, much better,” he whispered, leading her across the floor. He stroked her back in a slow circular motion that was doing crazy things to her pulse. The music ended long before she was ready to stop.

“That wasn’t so bad, now was it?” Jon asked.

She blinked up at him, not realizing she’d closed her eyes. “No.” It was scary and wonderful, both at once. She didn’t want to feel any of this. Warning bells were clanging in her head. Nevertheless, when the next song started—even before he asked—she slipped her arms around his neck and swayed toward him.

Jon didn’t say anything, but she could feel his smile. To her own amazement, she was smiling, too.

They danced for what seemed like hours, danced to song after song. They didn’t talk, but the communication between them was unmistakable. The way he held her close told her he’d been interested in her for some time. And the way she responded to his touch told him she found his work brilliant and beautiful, and that he intrigued her—as an artist and a man.

She wanted to know why he answered every question with a question. Did he have secrets? She suspected he must. After all, she had her own. Secrets that had remained buried since the early days of her marriage. No one knew, not even her mother. Not her sister. No one. Perhaps it was this that drew them together. Perhaps this was what he sensed in her and she felt in him. Of one thing Maryellen was sure. Secrets could be dangerous.

The Halloween party was breaking up and Jon suggested he walk her to her car. Maryellen agreed. Knowing that parking would be scarce, she’d used her space behind the art gallery. It would be dark and deserted, and she was glad Jon had offered to escort her.

“I had a good time,” he told her as they entered the alley.

“I did, too.” Darkness swallowed them up no more than two feet from the street.

“I forgive you for wanting to pawn me off on your friend.”

Maryellen’s face instantly went hot, and she felt grateful there wasn’t enough light for Jon to notice. “That was all a misunderstanding.”

He chuckled. “If you say so.”

As she fumbled in her purse for her car keys, Jon stopped her. “I’ve wanted to know you better for years,” he said in a low voice.

Maryellen couldn’t have muttered a word had the fate of the world depended on her reply. She envisioned herself thanking him in a flippant, matter-of-fact way, then whirling around and unlocking her car door. Instead she stood rooted to the spot, staring up at him. He was going to kiss her. That couldn’t happen; she simply couldn’t allow it. Yet, all the while objection after objection marched through her mind, she found herself slowly—against every rational dictate—leaning toward him. Her head was raised, her eyes half-closed.

When his lips met hers, it wasn’t the slow, seductive kiss she’d anticipated. Jon lifted her from the pavement until she stood on the very tips of her toes. His mouth was hungry, urgent, needy as his lips seduced hers. She tasted his passion as his tongue swept her mouth and swallowed his moan as it went on and on and on until she was sure she’d faint.

No man, not even her husband, had kissed her so thoroughly, so passionately. When he broke it off, Maryellen was breathless and speechless. Had he released her, she would’ve crumpled into a heap on the ground.

“Oh, no.” When she could manage to speak, these were the first words that emerged.

“No?” Jon asked.


“My ego’s taking something of a bruising here. Can’t you do better than that?”

“Jon.” She gave herself a moment to gather her composure. “That was—”

“Pretty damn wonderful if you ask me.”

“Yes…it was.” Maryellen couldn’t begin to explain to him why this was such a mistake.

“I’ve been wanting to do that all evening,” he said in a satisfied tone.

Arms dangling at her sides, Maryellen slumped against her car. It was still hard to breathe, and for some reason, she felt as if she was about to cry. “I think we need to talk.”

“We’ll talk,” Jon promised, kissing her again. She’d been half expecting it, and even though she was prepared this time, his touch devastated her, left her gasping with shock and pleasure.

“Soon,” he said as he eased his lips from hers. “All right?”

“Okay,” she agreed hoarsely, although she couldn’t recall what was going to happen “soon.”

Once secure and inside her car, she placed her hands on the steering wheel. She was trembling so badly she found it impossible to insert the key into the ignition. What had she done? What had she unleashed on them both?

Dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt, Grace started outside to look around the house and garage. She couldn’t delay winterizing her home any longer. Dan had always taken care of such chores; now, for the first time in her marriage, Grace would need to complete these unfamiliar tasks herself.

Thankfully, her son-in-law had stepped in whenever she’d required help. He’d shown her how to change the furnace filter, fixed a leaking faucet and repaired the dryer, but Grace couldn’t continue to rely on Paul, dear as he was. She had to learn to cope with these situations on her own.

The first thing she did was stare at the open garage door. For the last two weeks, the automatic door had refused to budge. Grace had managed to open it manually, but last evening it had stuck in the open position. It needed to be fixed before someone saw it as an invitation to rob her.