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“Because you’re sweet and caring and he’s so…” Carol paused and stared into space. “Because he’s so scornful.”

“True, but underneath that gruff exterior is a heart of gold. At least I think there is,” Maryanne joked.

“Maybe, but I doubt it,” Carol went on. “Don’t get me wrong—I respect Nolan’s talent. It’s his devil-may-care attitude that troubles me.”

But it didn’t trouble Maryanne. Not in the least. Perhaps that was what she found most appealing about him. Yet everything Carol said about Nolan was true. He did tend to be cynical and a bit sardonic, but he was also intuitive, reflective and, despite Carol’s impression to the contrary, considerate.

Since it was her last day at the paper, Maryanne spent a few extra minutes saying goodbye to her coworkers. Most were sorry to see her go. There’d been a fair amount of resentment directed at her when she arrived, but her hard work seemed to have won over all but the most skeptical doubters.

On impulse, Maryanne stopped at the diner where Nolan had met her earlier in the week, hoping he’d be there. Her heart flew into her throat when she saw him sitting in a booth by the window, a book propped open in front of him. He didn’t look up when she walked in.

Nor did he notice her when she approached his booth. Without waiting for an invitation, she slid in across from him.

“Hi,” she murmured, keeping her voice low and secretive. “Here comes trouble to plague you once more.”

Slowly, with obvious reluctance, Nolan dragged his gaze from the novel. Another mystery, Maryanne noted. “What are you doing here, Trouble?”

“Looking for you.”

“Why? Have you thought up any other ways to test my patience? How about walking a tightrope between two skyscrapers? That sounds right up your alley.”

“I hadn’t heard from you in the past few days.” She paused, hoping he’d pick up the conversation. “I thought there was something I should do about the apartment. Sign a lease, give the manager a deposit, that sort of thing.”

“Annie—”

“I hope you realize I don’t even know the address. I only saw it that one time.”

“I told you not to worry about it.”

“But I don’t want anyone else to rent it.”

“They won’t.” He laid the book aside just as the waitress appeared carrying a glass of water and a menu. Maryanne recognized her from the other day. “Hello, Barbara,” she said, reading the woman’s name tag. “What’s the special for the day? Mr. Adams owes me a meal and I think I’ll collect it while I’ve got the chance.” She waited for him to ask her what she was talking about, but apparently he remembered his promise of dinner to pay her back for the Irish stew he’d eaten at her house the first evening they’d met.

“Cabbage rolls, with soup or salad,” Barbara said, pulling out her pad and pencil while Maryanne quickly scanned the menu.

“I’ll have a cheeseburger and a chocolate shake,” Maryanne decided.

Barbara grinned. “I’ll make sure it comes up with Mr. Adams’s order.”

“Thanks,” she said, handing her back the menu. Barbara sauntered off toward the kitchen, scribbling on her order pad as she walked.

“It was my last day at the paper,” Maryanne said.

“I’ll ask you one more time—are you sure you want to go through with this?” Nolan demanded. “Hell, I never thought for a moment you’d want that apartment. Damn it all, you’re a stubborn woman.”

“Of course I’m taking the apartment.”

“That’s what I thought.” He closed his eyes briefly. “What did the Rent-A-Maid agency say when you told them you wouldn’t be taking the job?”

Maryanne stared purposely out the window. “Nothing.”

He cocked an eyebrow. “Nothing?”

“What could they say?” she asked, trying to ignore the doubt reflected in his eyes. Maybe she was getting good at this lie-telling business, which wasn’t a comforting thought. The way she’d misled her mother still bothered her.

Nolan drew one hand across his face. “You didn’t tell them, did you? Apparently you intend to play the Cinderella role to the hilt.”

“And you intend to play the role of my wicked stepmother to perfection.”

He didn’t say anything for a long moment. “Is there a part in that fairy tale where Cinderella gets locked in a closet for her own good?”

“Why?” she couldn’t resist asking. “Is that what you’re going to do?”

“Don’t tempt me.”

“I wish you had more faith in me.”

“I do have faith in you. I have faith that you’re going to make my life hell for the next few months while you go about proving yourself. Heaven knows what possessed me to write that stupid column, but, trust me, there hasn’t been a minute since it hit the streets that I haven’t regretted it. Not a single minute.”

“But—”

“Now you insist on moving into the apartment next to mine. That’s just great. Wonderful. Whatever peace I have in my life will be completely and utterly destroyed.”

“That’s not true!” Maryanne cried. “Besides, I’d like to remind you, you’re the one who found that apartment, not me. I have no intention of pestering you.”

“Like I said, I figured just seeing the apartment would be enough to put you off. Now I won’t have a minute to myself. I know it, and you know it.” His eyes were darker and more brooding than she’d ever seen them. “I wasn’t kidding when I said you were trouble.”

“All right,” Maryanne said, doing her best to disguise her crushing sense of defeat. “It’s obvious you never expected me to take the place. I suppose you arranged it to look as bleak as you could. Don’t worry, I’ll find somewhere else to live. Another apartment as far away from you as I can possibly get.” She was out of the booth so fast, so intent on escaping, that she nearly collided with Barbara.

“What about your cheeseburger?” the waitress asked.

Maryanne glanced at Nolan. “Wrap it up and give it to Mr. Adams. I’ve lost my appetite.”

The tears that blurred her eyes only angered her more. Furious with herself for allowing his words to wound her, she hurried down the street, headed in the direction of the Seattle waterfront. It was growing dark, but she didn’t care; she needed to vent some of her anger, and a brisk hike would serve that purpose nicely.

She wasn’t concerned when she heard hard quick footsteps behind her. As the wind whipped at her, she shivered and drew her coat closer, tucking her hands in her pockets and hunching her shoulders forward.

Carol and Nolan both seemed to believe she needed a keeper! They apparently considered her incompetent, and their doubts cut deeply into her pride.

Her head bowed against the force of the wind, she noticed a pair of male legs matching steps with her own. She looked up and discovered Nolan had joined her.

For the longest time, he said nothing. They were halfway down a deserted pier before he spoke. “I don’t want you to find another apartment.”

“I think it would be for the best if I did.” He’d already told her she was nothing but trouble, and if that wasn’t bad enough, he’d implied she was going to be a constant nuisance in his life. She had no intention of bothering him. As far as she was concerned, they could live on opposite sides of town. That was what he wanted and that was what he was going to get.

“It isn’t for the best,” he argued.

“It is. We obviously rub each other the wrong way.”

Nolan turned and gripped her by the shoulders. “The apartment’s been cleaned. It’s ready for you to move into anytime you want. The rent is reasonable and the neighborhood’s a good one. As I recall, this whole ridiculous business between us started over an article about the lack of affordable housing. You’re not going to find anyplace else, not with what you intend to live on.”

“But you live next door!”

“I’m well aware of that.”

Maryanne bristled. “I won’t live beside a man who considers me a pest. And furthermore, you still owe me dinner.”

“I said you were trouble,” he pointed out, ignoring her claim. “I didn’t say you were a pest.”

“You did so.”

“I said you were going to destroy my peace—”

“Exactly.”

“—of mind,” he went on. He closed his eyes briefly and expelled a sharp frustrated sigh, then repeated, “You’re going to destroy my peace of mind.”

Maryanne wasn’t sure she understood. She stared up at him, intrigued by the emotion she saw in his intense brown eyes.

“Why the hell should it matter if you live next door to me or in The Seattle?” he exclaimed. “My serenity was shot the minute I laid eyes on you.”

“I don’t understand,” she said, surprised when her voice came out a raspy whisper. She continued to look up at him, trying to read his expression.

“You don’t have a clue, do you?” he whispered. His fingers found their way into her hair as he lowered his mouth with heart-stopping slowness toward hers. “Heaven keep me from redheaded innocents.”

But heaven apparently didn’t receive the message, because even as he whispered the words Nolan’s arms were pulling her toward him. With a sigh of regret—or was it pleasure?—his mouth settled over hers. His kiss was light and undemanding, and despite her anger, despite his words, Maryanne felt herself melting.

With a soft sigh, she flattened her hands on his chest and slid them up to link behind his neck. She leaned against him, letting his strength support her, letting his warmth comfort her.

He pulled her even closer, wrapped his arms around her waist and half lifted her from the pier. Maryanne heard a low hungry moan; she wasn’t sure if it came from Nolan or from her.

It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered except this wonderful feeling of being cherished and loved and protected.

Over the years, Maryanne had been kissed by her share of men. She’d found the experience pleasant, but no one had ever set her on fire the way Nolan did now.

“See what I mean,” he whispered unsteadily. “We’re in trouble here. Big trouble.”

Chapter Four

Maryanne stood in the doorway of her new apartment, the key held tightly in her hand. She was embarking on her grand adventure, but now that she’d actually moved out of The Seattle her confidence was a bit shaky.

Carol joined her, huffing and puffing as she staggered the last few steps down the narrow hallway. She sagged against the wall, panting to catch her breath.

“This place doesn’t have an elevator?” she demanded, when she could speak.

“It’s being repaired.”

“That’s what they always say.”

Maryanne nodded, barely hearing her friend. Her heart in her throat, she inserted the key and turned the lock. The door stuck, so she used the force of one hip to dislodge it. The apartment was just as she remembered: worn hardwood floors, the bulky faded furniture, the kitchen appliances that would soon be valuable antiques. But Maryanne saw none of that.

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