Chet’s look was unreadable. This private investigator was superbly talented at hiding his feelings.

Her own were as plain as a first-grade primer, she was sure of it. She was so pleased to see him it would have been impossible to disguise even a small part of her feelings.

His eyes darkened with intensity before he framed her face with his hands and gently pressed his mouth to hers. Monica sighed and wrapped her arms around his neck. The upper part of her body was thrust out the window so that her waist was pressed against the sill.

“I’m so pleased you came,” she whispered again and again between frantic kisses. Her fingers were in his hair and her mouth was working against his, her need urgent.

The power Chet held over her was frightening. Each time they were together a little more of her restraint was stripped away. A little more of her control.

By the time they broke apart, Monica was gasping and trembling. She was aware of every part of her body his hands had touched. Her face, her shoulders, her neck. She felt a deep, physical hunger that shook her to the core.

“How was your date?” he asked.

She shook her head, not wanting to discuss Michael.

“Did you enjoy yourself?” he demanded, refusing to allow her to brush off the question. His hands held her face prisoner, and his eyes burned into hers.

“I was miserable.”

His shoulders relaxed and he rewarded her with a shockingly thorough kiss. Before she had time to recover, he hoisted himself inside her bedroom.

Monica backed away from the window, and sank onto the edge of her mattress, her knees too weak to support her.

Chet glanced about the starkly furnished room and frowned. “Let’s get out of here.”

“Where would we go?”

“My place.”

“I don’t think that’s such a good idea.” Where she gathered the strength to refuse him she never knew. She folded her hands in her lap and concentrated on drawing in deep, even breaths. If ever she needed a clear head it was now.

Chet was pacing the room, restless and agitated. “We can’t stay here.”

“Why not?”

“Monica, be reasonable. Your father’s—”

“On the other side of the house. He’s a sound sleeper, he won’t hear anything, and if he does, well, I’m twenty-five years old and if I care to invite a man into our house, then that’s my business.”

Chet’s smile lacked amusement. “In case you haven’t noticed, I’m in your bedroom, and inviting me to stay is a little like inviting the fox into the henhouse.”

“Is your place any safer?”

He laughed softly at that. “No, but it’ll ease my conscience. In the time it takes us to get there I just might find the strength to keep my hands off you. But I doubt it. You’ve got me so tied up in knots, it’s a wonder I’m able to do my job.”

Monica wasn’t in any better condition herself. Brushing the hair from her face, she forced herself to think rationally. That, she soon realized, was a mistake. “As far as I can see we have absolutely nothing in common,” she mumbled under her breath, discouraged and depressed.

“Except we’re so damn hot for each other we’re both about to break out in a heat rash.”

“A relationship built on physical attraction is doomed from the beginning.”

Chet nodded. “I couldn’t agree with you more.”

“So,” she said, straightening her spine, searching for the necessary resolve to do the right thing. “Where do we go from here?”

“The logical choice is to bed. It’d help matters tremendously, don’t you think? It’s what any other couple would do in like circumstances. We just might be able to put this foolishness behind us and get on with our lives.”

His words felt like a cold slap in the face. “That’s the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever said to me,” Monica managed despite her outrage. “I’m not some bimbo you can use to satisfy your carnal cravings and then toss aside. Dear heaven.” She moaned, covering her face with both hands. “I can’t believe we’re having this conversation.”

“All right, all right,” Chet whispered, kneeling down in front of her. He pried her hands away from her face, clasped them in his own and kissed her knuckles. “You’re right, it was a stupid thing to suggest. I shouldn’t have spoken to you like that.”

Leaning forward she rewarded his honesty with a lengthy kiss, one that gained in intensity and momentum until they were both sprawled across the top of her mattress, their arms and legs entwined.

“You shouldn’t have done that,” he whispered, his voice husky and low. He was struggling for control and for that matter so was she, but it felt so wonderfully good to be in his arms. Better than anything she’d experienced in all her twenty-five years.

“I better leave,” he whispered.

“Not yet.” She ran her tongue along the underside of his jaw, loving the taste of him; the scent of rum-and-spice aftershave enveloped her. She burrowed more completely into his embrace. For a moment she thought he intended to push her away, but instead he released a long, slow sigh and held her tightly against him.

“Monica . . . Stop,” he muttered between clenched teeth, “otherwise I won’t be held responsible for what happens.”

Monica smiled to herself, knowing he’d never do anything to hurt her. Where the assurance came from she couldn’t be sure, but she felt it as strongly as she did his arms around her.

“I knew it would be a mistake to come,” he mumbled, seemingly to himself.

Monica continued to move her mouth over his throat. Her tongue made small circular movements against his jaw and over his ear.

“You’re playing with fire,” he said, his voice stiff with resolve.

“I know,” she assured him.

“A man can only take so much of this.” The words were barely audible.

“I know that too.”

“I didn’t mean for things to go so far,” he whispered. He rolled away from her and changed their positions so that they were lying on their sides, facing each other.

Monica’s head was cradled in his upper arm, their mouths separated by scant inches. Their breath merged and mingled. Her thigh met his. She was happier than she could remember being in a good long while. Monica would have been utterly content to stay exactly like this for the next hundred years.

Being here with Chet like this forced her to acknowledge how incredibly lonely she’d been in the last few years. Her mother had died and her friends, the only two she considered good friends, had both married and moved away. Funny she hadn’t realized how empty and pointless her life had become. Nor had she realized what poor company she was to herself and others.

“What are you thinking?” he asked.

Their eyes met and she found him openly studying her. She quickly averted her gaze. “I didn’t realize how downright good a man could feel.”

He laughed softly and kissed the tip of her nose. “That’s very honest of you.”

“I couldn’t very well deny it.”

“You could, and have,” he said. His fingertips grazed her temple, softly caressing her face. “I’ll be honest too. You feel damn good in my arms. Tonight,” he whispered, “while you were with Michael, I was like a caged animal.”

“He doesn’t mean anything to me,” she rushed to explain.

He closed his eyes and nodded. “I know, but it didn’t make any difference. There was this band around my chest that tightened every time I thought about the two of you together. Yet I know in my heart Michael’s a better man than I’ll ever be.”

“Don’t say that,” she pleaded, feeling the panic rising in her voice. His next suggestion might be that they not see each other again and she couldn’t bear that.

“Monica, listen—”

“No. No, don’t say it. I have an idea.” The words rushed out on top of each other.

“An idea for us?”

She nodded and bent forward and kissed him, using her tongue in all the ways he’d taught her until they were both panting and clinging to each other.

“As you said,” she whispered, her chest heaving, “we seem to get along fabulously well on the physical level.”

He chuckled. “That, my dear, is putting it mildly.”

“It seems to me that we could learn to communicate on other levels as well.”

He went still and raised his gaze to hers. She swallowed and forced herself to smile. His eyes narrowed.

“I was thinking that, well, if we feel so strongly about one another then we should . . .”

“Should what?” he prodded.

Monica gathered her courage and blurted it all out at once. “That we should get married.”

“Leah,” Andrew whispered in the darkened theater.

Leah’s gaze reluctantly left the screen, where a Walt Disney animation film was playing.

Her husband pointed to Scotty, who was curled up in his lap. The toddler was sound asleep. Husband and wife shared a meaningful smile. Andrew reached over and stole a handful of popcorn from her box.

“Do you want to leave?”

She shook her head, surprised he’d ask. “This is the very best part. Besides, Scotty will want to know what he missed.”

The older grandmotherly type in the row in front of them turned around and glared pointedly at Andrew.

“My husband apologizes for disrupting the show,” Leah whispered.

“So does my wife,” Andrew added.

The woman huffily turned around and Leah smothered her laughter as best she could. Her husband certainly wasn’t helping matters any. He was making faces at the old biddy, which caused Leah to giggle all the more.

The woman turned around once again and Leah nearly choked in her effort to keep from laughing outright. Once she’d composed herself, she scooted down in her seat and leaned her head against Andrew’s shoulder. She hadn’t laughed this much in one day since . . . she couldn’t remember when. It didn’t matter, she was laughing now and it felt incredible. When had she allowed her life to become so cheerless? Time had slipped between her fingers with barely a notice.

Scotty was a delight, and she loved him until her heart felt as if it would burst. He would be about the same age as the baby they’d wanted to adopt. In some unexplainable way, Leah had transferred the love she had stored in her heart for the child taken from her. Pam must have understood that because she and Doug had asked Leah and her husband if they’d be Scotty’s godparents.

In the last couple of years they’d done their duty and bought Scotty birthday and Christmas presents, but that had been the extent of their commitment. He held a special place in her heart, but Leah realized now that she’d cheated Andrew and herself out of the pleasure this child could bring into their lives.

Loving Scotty frightened her. She feared she might become overly attached to her friend’s son. The pain of the lost adoption had cheated her out of enjoying Scotty the way she should. She’d feared that if she became overly attached, he’d be taken from her too.