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This was her new life.

She walked directly to the window and gazed out. “I’ve got a great view of Volunteer Park,” she announced to her friend. She hadn’t noticed it the day Nolan had shown her the apartment. “I had no idea the park was so close.” She turned toward Carol, who was still standing in the threshold, her expression one of shock and dismay. “What’s wrong?”

“Good heavens,” Carol whispered. “You don’t really intend to live here, do you?”

“It isn’t so bad,” Maryanne said with a smile, glancing around to be sure she hadn’t missed anything. “I’ve got lots of ideas on how to decorate the place.” She leaned back against the windowsill, where much of the dingy beige paint was chipped away to reveal an even dingier grey-green. “What it needs is a fresh coat of paint, something light and cheerful.”

“It’s not even half the size of your other place.”

“There was a lot of wasted space at my apartment.” That might be true, Maryanne thought privately, but she wouldn’t have minded bringing some of it with her.

“What about your neighbor?” Carol asked in a grudging voice. “He’s the one who started this. The least he could do is offer a little help.”

Straightening, Maryanne brushed the dust from her palms and looked away. “I didn’t ask him to. I don’t think he even knows when I was planning to move in.”

Nolan was a subject Maryanne wanted to avoid. She hadn’t talked to him since the night he’d followed her to the waterfront…the night he’d kissed her. He’d stopped off at The Seattle to leave the apartment key and a rental agreement with the doorman. Max had promptly delivered both. The implication was obvious; Nolan didn’t want to see her and was, in fact, doing his best to avoid her.

Clearly he disapproved of the way things had developed on the pier that night. She supposed he didn’t like kissing her. Then again, perhaps he did. Perhaps he liked it too much for his oft-lamented “peace of mind.”

Maryanne knew how she felt about it. She couldn’t sleep for two nights afterward. Every time she closed her eyes, the image of Nolan holding her in his arms danced through her mind like a waltzing couple from a 1940s movie. She remembered the way he’d scowled down at her when he’d broken off the kiss and how he’d struggled to make light of the incident. And she remembered his eyes, so warm and gentle, telling her another story.

“Hey, lady, is this the place where I’m supposed to bring the boxes?” A lanky boy of about fourteen stood in the doorway, carrying a large cardboard box.

“Y-yes,” Maryanne said, recognizing the container as one of her own. “How’d you know to bring it up here?”

“Mr. Adams. He promised a bunch of us guys he’d play basketball with us if we’d help unload the truck.”

“Oh. How nice. I’m Maryanne Simpson,” she said, her heart warming at Nolan’s unexpected thoughtfulness.

“Nice to meet you, lady. Now where do you want me to put this?”

Maryanne pointed to the kitchen. “Just put it in the corner over there.” Before she finished, a second and third boy appeared, each hauling boxes.

Maryanne slipped past them and ran down the stairs to the parking area behind the building. Nolan was standing in the back of Carol’s husband’s pickup, noisily distributing cardboard boxes and dire warnings. He didn’t see her until she moved closer. When he did, he fell silent, a frown on his face.

“Hi,” she said, feeling a little shy. “I came to thank you.”

“You shouldn’t have gone up and left the truck unattended,” he barked, still frowning. “Anyone could’ve walked off with this stuff.”

“We just arrived.”

“We?”

“Carol Riverside and me. She’s upstairs trying to regain her breath. How long will it be before the elevator’s fixed?”

“Not soon.”

She nodded. Well, if he’d hoped to discourage her, she wasn’t going to let him. So what if she had to walk up four flights of stairs every day! It was wonderful aerobic exercise. In the past she’d paid good money to attend a health club for the same purpose.

Nolan returned to his task, lifting boxes and handing them to a long line of teenage boys. “I’m surprised you didn’t have a moving company manage this for you.”

“Are you kidding?” she joked. “Only rich people use moving companies.”

“Is this all of it, or do you need to make a second trip?”

“This is it. Carol and I put everything else in storage earlier this morning. It’s only costing me a few dollars a month. I have to be careful about money now, you know.”

He scowled again. “When do you start with the cleaning company?”

“Monday morning.”

Nolan placed his hands on his hips and glared down at her. “If you’re really intending to take that job—”

“Of course I am!”

“Then the first thing you’ll need to do is ask for a raise.”

“Oh, honestly, Nolan,” she protested, walking backward. “I can’t do that!”

“What you can’t do is live on that amount of money, no matter how well you budget,” he muttered. He leapt off the back of the truck as agilely as a cat. “Will you listen to me for once?”

“I am listening,” she said. “It just so happens I don’t agree. Quit worrying about me, would you? I’m going to be perfectly all right, especially once I start selling articles.”

“I’m not a knight in shining armor, understand?” he shouted after her. “If you think I’ll be racing to your rescue every time you’re in trouble, then you need to think again.”

“You’re insulting me by even suggesting I’d accept your help.” She tried to be angry with him but found it impossible. He might insist she was entirely on her own, but all the while he was lecturing her he was doling out her boxes so she wouldn’t have to haul them up the stairs herself. Nolan might claim not to be a knight riding to her rescue, but he was behaving suspiciously like one.

Two hours later, Maryanne was alone in her new apartment for the first time. Standing in the middle of her living room, she surveyed her kingdom. As she’d told Carol, it wasn’t so bad. Boxes filled every bit of available space, but it wouldn’t take her long to unpack and set everything in order.

She was grateful for the help Carol, Nolan and the neighborhood teenagers had given her, but now it was up to her. And she had lots of plans—she’d paint the walls and put up her pictures and buy some plants—to make this place cheerful and attractive. To turn it into a home.

It was dark before she’d finished unpacking, and by that time she was both exhausted and hungry. Actually famished more adequately described her condition. Her hunger and exhaustion warred with each other: she was too tired to go out and buy herself something to eat, but too hungry to go to bed without eating. Making the decision about which she should do created a dilemma of startling proportions.

She’d just decided to make do with a bowl of cornflakes, without milk, when there was a loud knock at her door. She jerked it open to find Nolan there, wearing grey sweatpants and a sweat-soaked T-shirt. He held a basketball under one arm and clutched a large white paper sack in his free hand.

“Never open the door without knowing who’s on the other side,” he warned, walking directly into the apartment. He dropped the basketball on the sofa and placed his sack—obviously from a fast-food restaurant—on the coffee table. “That security chain’s there for a reason. Use it.”

Maryanne was still standing at the door, inhaling the aroma of french fries and hamburgers. “Yes, your majesty.”

“Don’t get testy with me, either. I’ve just lost two years of my life on a basketball court. I’m too old for this, but luckily what I lack in youth I make up for in smarts.”

“I see,” she said, closing the door. For good measure she clipped the chain in place and turned the lock.

“A little show of appreciation would go a long way toward soothing my injuries,” he told her, sinking on to the sofa. He rested his head against the cushion, eyes drifting shut.

“You can’t be that smart, otherwise you’d have managed to get out of playing with boys twenty years younger than you,” she said lightly. She had trouble keeping her eyes off the white sack on the scratched mahogany coffee table.

Nolan straightened, wincing as he did so. “I thought you might be hungry.” He reached for the bag and removed a wrapped hamburger, which he tossed to her before taking a second for himself. Next he set out two cardboard cartons full of hot french fries and two cans of soda.

Maryanne sat down beside him, her hand pressed against her stomach to keep it from growling. “You’d better be careful,” she said. “You’re beginning to look suspiciously like that knight in shining armor.”

“Don’t kid yourself.”

Maryanne was too hungry to waste time arguing. She devoured the hamburger and fries within minutes. Then she relaxed against the back of the sofa and sighed, content.

“I came to set some ground rules,” Nolan explained. “I think you and I need to get a few things straight.”

“Sure,” she agreed, although she was fairly certain she knew what he wanted to talk about. “I’ve already promised not to pester you.”

“Good. I intend to stay out of your way, too.”

“Perfect.” It didn’t really sound all that wonderful, but it seemed to be what he wanted, so she didn’t have much choice. “Anything else?”

Nolan hesitated. Then he leaned forward, resting his forearms on his knees. “Yes, one other thing.” He turned to her with a frown. “I don’t think we should…you know, kiss again.”

A short silence followed his words. At first Maryanne wasn’t sure she’d heard him correctly.

“I realize talking about this may be embarrassing,” Nolan continued, sounding as detached as if he’d introduced the subject of football scores. “I want you to know I’m suggesting this for your own good.”

“I’m pleased to hear that.” It was an effort not to mock him by rolling her eyes.

He nodded and cleared his throat, and Maryanne could see he wasn’t nearly as indifferent as he wanted her to believe.

“There appears to be a certain amount of physical chemistry between us,” he said, avoiding even a glance in her direction. “I feel that the sooner we settle this, the less likelihood there’ll be for misunderstandings later on. The last thing I need is for you to fall in love with me.”

“That’s it!” she cried, throwing up her arms. The ridiculousness of his comment revived her enough to indulge in some good-natured teasing. “If I can’t have your heart and soul, then I’m leaving right now!”

“Damn it, Annie, this is nothing to joke about.”

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