Sometimes she felt she should have been born then. She definitely did not suit a new millennium with her interests: cooking, needlework, watercolor painting, animals, gardening, old three-hanky black-and-white movies, books. She liked ballroom dancing, too, but she’d never met a man, apart from her father, who was any good at it.


She was startled at the sudden warm feel of his hand on hers. “Y-yes?”

“We can go in now.” He held her gaze for a few seconds and Hannah felt her blood swoosh. She caught her breath. His smile painted a picture for her, and it was an X-rated picture. She was in way over her head. Really, how desperate was she to allow herself be swept along in something like this? Well, she’d had the option of coming clean. On the phone. And she hadn’t, had she?

He took her hand as they followed the hostess into the small dining room. Hannah felt very conspicuous. The place was sparely but beautifully furnished with smooth wood furniture of birch or beech and lots of subdued lighting. The sound of water trickling came from a small pond installed near the door. She could see the flash of goldfish and wondered if the copper pennies she saw glittering on the bottom harmed the fish.

Even though they’d had to wait, the place wasn’t that busy, less than a third occupied. Maybe they were short-staffed, Hannah thought as she accepted the large menu handed her by a smiling Japanese woman. There was some tinkly kind of music playing quietly in the background, faintly annoying.

“I’ve never been here before,” Jack confided, leaning forward. “I’ve heard it’s decent grub.”

He didn’t look that hopeful. Hannah smiled. She’d never had Japanese food before, either.

The menu was a mystery. She’d heard of sushi, but wasn’t entirely sure what it was. Neither of them knew what sunomono was, and the cryptic English translation beneath the Japanese wasn’t really helpful. Gyoza?

Jack solved their quandary by suggesting that the server decide for them, bringing dinner for two—including something called tempura.

“If we hate it,” he said, reaching forward to take her hands in his again, “we’ll just go out to McDonald’s.”

Hannah gave a noncommittal nod. She wasn’t comfortable with him holding her hands, although she didn’t pull away. He seemed very physical. In a way, she liked that. She’d gone out with Bruce Twist three times, and he’d never even tried to kiss her. Maybe after the episode on her sister’s doorstep last Friday, Jack had decided they were past the “first date” stage. Which meant—what?

“So, tell me about yourself,” he said, sending Hannah’s pulse into a skitter. “What kind of work do you do? Where’d you grow up? Is Emily your only sister?”

No point panicking. She was twenty-eight; she could handle this. Hannah decided to be truthful but offer no details. “Emily’s my only sibling. We grew up right here in Alberta in a small town called Tamarack. I have a degree in library science.”

“A librarian!” He seemed surprised. “Really? A librarian?”

“Yes.” This conversation could be dangerous.

“Tell me about your farming plans,” she added quickly. “And yourself. What are you going to, you know, plant? Grow? Whatever you call it.” Might as well keep the conversation on him. Less risky.

“Ira’s raised crops all these years, hay and grain, but I want to try something different. At least with part of the farm. Maybe you could help me…” He squeezed her hand slightly, and then, to her dismay, she felt him slide his thumb gently along her palm. Omigod. The sensation zinged down to the soles of her feet and back again.

“Oh?” She gently withdrew her hand, pretending she needed to scratch her other wrist. “In what way?”

“Research. I want to raise game for the restaurant trade. Deer or elk. It’s a booming market. I’ve already talked to suppliers about acquiring some breeding stock. In fact, on Monday I’m meeting with someone in Calgary and—”

“Deer?” An image of Bambi calling for his mother swam into her mind. “Oh, Jack, surely not!”

“Or elk. Even wild boars—they’re catching on.” He shrugged. “It’s a big investment, though. You’ve got to have good high fences for deer and elk. And disease is always a concern, with a local wild population. What do you think?”

His eyes were intent on her, as though her opinion really mattered. Thank goodness she was on holiday for the next two weeks! That was all she needed— Jack Gamble strolling into the town library and asking for reference materials.

“I don’t think you should be raising deer,” she said firmly. “It’s just not…not right.” She still saw Bambi crying his big brown eyes out in front of her.

“Too cute?” His eyes crinkled at the corners.

“Yes. Forget deer.”

“Okay. Wild pigs?” He made a face at her, leaning toward her and squiggling his hands over his ears, and Hannah burst out laughing. “Come on, they can be cute, too. See?”

“Jack! Stop it!”

He growled and snarled and snuffled like a demented pig, and Hannah felt all the tension she’d been holding simply dissolve. She glanced around the room to see if anyone had noticed his antics. He suddenly stopped and slipped his hand around hers so that their fingers were entwined on the tabletop.

“Okay, let’s talk about something else,” he said suddenly serious. “Your friend.”

“My friend?” Hannah frowned.

Just then the server arrived with a steaming pot of tea, which gave Hannah a chance to regain her composure. Jack released her hand and she sat back in her chair, feeling a little flustered.

“Yeah, the friend you’re house-sitting for? I’m curious about her.” The server poured the tea and left.

“What’s her name?”

That friend. “Why?” Hannah really didn’t want to get drawn into making up even more stuff about the friend Emily had invented.

“Oh, I just wondered what her name was. What kind of tea is this, do you think?” He picked up his bowl and examined the amber liquid closely.

“Mmm, jasmine?” she asked, inhaling, closing her eyes for a second or two, madly racking her brain. She’d never dreamed he’d ask this many questions about the so-called house-sitting job.

“Jasmine? That’s her name?”

“Uh-huh. Jasmine Kelly.” That came straight out of nowhere.

“You know what?” He leaned forward. “The amazing thing is, if I hadn’t met you first, I’d be seriously interested in someone like her—no kidding. She married, by the way?”

Hannah sputtered her tea. “Married?” she gasped. “No. Why?”

“I’m almost embarrassed to say,” he answered with a grin. He looked around. “Listen, do you want a drink now or something with your dinner later? Wine? Sake? We can tell the waitress as soon as we see her. They serve it warmed, I’m told.”

Hannah felt reckless. After all, chances were that after this evening, she’d never see Jack Gamble again. Especially considering the way things were going. Her guard was down, since that giggle over the wild pigs. She was bound to make a major mistake; why not live a little first? “Oh, sure. Let’s try the sake.”

“Okay.” Jack smiled. “Yeah, I made my mind up when I decided to take over the farm that it’s time I got married.” He grinned and played with his chopsticks, bouncing them lightly against the side of his plate. “It’s no hardship. I want to get married. Wife, kids, all that. I’ve spent too many years by myself in the bush, and I’m ready for a big change in my life.”

Married. Hannah had clenched her hands under the table and was staring at him. “Oh?”

“And I decided the right woman for me was someone just like your friend seems to be. You know, domestic? She’s got a great apartment. I’ll bet she’s a good cook, likes kids, honest as the day is long, good-humored—she has to be, look at those crazy animals she’s got. A real treasure for some lucky guy. Am I right?”

Hannah swallowed. She couldn’t speak. A horrifying prospect had just opened up in her mind. Jack was looking for…someone like her!

“This is a tough confession to make, but I’ve always been a sucker for flashy good-looking women with, uh, well, you know. Appeal. Like you.” His eyes were very warm on her. Very admiring. She was sure he’d been going to say something like “big tits.”

“But I’m not—”

“You are,” he interrupted. “You’re a terrific-looking woman. Beautiful. Sexy. That hair! I love it. I’ve always had a soft spot for redheads. The way you dress—cool, classy. I mean, any guy in this room…” He glanced around quickly. There were two elderly couples dining on the other side of the room and a truck-driver type reading a newspaper and slurping down noodles nearby. “Well maybe not in this room,” he corrected himself with a grin. “Seriously, any red-blooded guy would notice you right away. And he’d wish he was in my shoes.”

Hannah felt herself stiffen. She’d never heard such garbage. “Don’t you think that’s kind of…superficial?”

“It is,” he admitted, shaking his head, as though they were talking about someone else, not him. “I admit it.” He put his hand on his heart. “It’s totally superficial, and that’s why I’m ashamed of myself. Still, I’m a guy.” He raised one eyebrow in boyish appeal. “It’s the way guys are. But I had myself convinced I could ignore all that and go to a small town like Glory, find some nice quiet Glory girl and ask her to marry me. Just like that!” He snapped his fingers and shook his head again, apparently amused at his own naiveté, then he sat back, gazing at her.

“Can you believe it?”

“I—I don’t know what to think,” she murmured. That was the understatement of the century. Her tea bowl was empty, and she poured herself some more. Green tea, it was, not jasmine. Her mind was whirling, and she felt a bit sick.

“I realized when I met you that I was fooling myself. Hannah, I know you’re going to think this makes no sense, but the minute I met you, I knew you were different. You were gorgeous, sexy, all that stuff, but you were a lot more than that. I could tell. And then, I couldn’t stop thinking about you all the time I was in Calgary this week. I had to see you again. That’s why I went back to your sister’s and—”

“And she told you all about me,” Hannah said quietly. All the lies. She felt tears rising and she blinked them back, afraid her eyelashes would fall off. She’d only worn false eyelashes twice in her life—tonight and last Friday—and she didn’t have a clue what they’d do under pressure. She rummaged in her purse and found a tissue and dabbed at her eyes.

“Allergies?” he asked, concerned.

“No,” she said, tucking the tissue back in her handbag. “Just something in my eye.”