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“Hello,” she said hesitantly, picking up the receiver.

“Maryanne,” her mother responded, her voice rising with pleasure. “I can’t believe I finally got hold of you. I’ve been trying for the past three days.”

Maryanne immediately felt swamped by guilt. “You didn’t leave a message on my machine.”

“You know how I hate those things.”

Maryanne did know that. She also knew she should have phoned her parents herself, but she wasn’t sure how long she could continue with this farce. “Is everything all right?”

“Yes, of course. Your father’s working too hard, but that’s nothing new. The boys are busy with soccer and growing like weeds.” Her mother’s voice fell slightly. “How’s the job?”

“The job?”

“Your special assignment.”

“Oh, that.” Maryanne had rarely been able to fool her mother, and she could only wonder how well she was succeeding now. “It’s going…well. I’m learning so much.”

“I think you’ll make a terrific investigative reporter, sweetie, and the secrecy behind this assignment makes it all the more intriguing. When are your father and I going to learn exactly what you’ve been doing? I wish we’d never promised not to check up on your progress at the paper. We’re both so curious.”

“I’ll be finished with it soon.” Maryanne glanced at her watch and was about to close the conversation when her mother asked, “How’s Nolan?”

“Nolan?” Maryanne’s heart zoomed straight into her throat. She hadn’t remembered mentioning him, and just hearing his name sent a feverish heat through her body.

“You seemed quite enthralled with him the last time we spoke, remember?”

“I was?”

“Yes, sweetie, you were. You claimed he was very talented, and although you were tight-lipped about it I got the impression you were strongly attracted to this young man.”

“Nolan’s a friend. But we argue more than anything.”

Her mother chuckled. “Good.”

“How could that possibly be good?”

“It means you’re comfortable enough with each other to be yourselves, and that’s a positive sign. Why, your father and I bickered like old fishwives when we first met. I swear there wasn’t a single issue we could agree on.” She sighed softly. “Then one day we looked at each other, and I knew then and there I was going to love this man for the rest of my life. And I have.”

“Mom, it isn’t like that with Nolan and me. I…I don’t even think he likes me.”

“Nolan doesn’t like you?” her mother repeated. “Why, sweetie, that would be impossible.”

Maryanne started to laugh then, because her mother was so obviously biased, yet sounded completely objective and matter-of-fact. It felt good to laugh again, good to find something amusing. She hadn’t realized how melancholy she’d become since her last encounter with Nolan. He was still making such an effort to keep her at arm’s length for fear…She didn’t know exactly what he feared. Perhaps he was falling in love with her, but she’d noticed precious little evidence pointing to that conclusion. If anything, Nolan considered her an irritant in his life.

Maryanne spoke to her mother for a few more minutes, then rushed out the door, hoping she wouldn’t be late for her shift at Mom’s Place. Some investigative reporter she was!

At the diner, she slipped the apron around her waist and hurried out to help with the luncheon crowd. Waiting tables, she was learning quite a lot about character types. This could be helpful for a writer, she figured. Some of her customers were pretty eccentric. She observed them carefully, wondering if Nolan did the same thing. But she wasn’t going to think about Nolan….

Halfway through her shift, she began to feel light-headed and sick to her stomach.

“Are you feeling all right?” Barbara asked as she slipped past, carrying an order.

“I—I don’t know.”

“When was the last time you ate?”

“This morning. No,” she corrected, “last night. I didn’t have much of an appetite this morning.”

“That’s what I thought.” Barbara set the hamburger and fries on the counter in front of her customer and walked back to Maryanne. “Now that I’ve got a good look at you, you do seem a bit peaked.”

“I’m all right.”

Hands on her hips, Barbara continued to study Maryanne as if memorizing every feature. “Are you sure?”

“I’m fine.” She had the beginnings of a headache, but nothing she could really complain about. It probably hadn’t been a good idea to skip breakfast and lunch, but she’d make up for it when she took her dinner break.

“I’m not sure I believe you,” Barbara muttered, dragging out a well-used phone book. She flipped through the pages until she apparently found the number she wanted, then reached for the phone.

“Who are you calling?”

She held the receiver against her shoulder. “Nolan Adams, who else? Seems to me it’s his turn to play nursemaid.”

“Barbara, no!” She might not be feeling a hundred per cent, but she wasn’t all that sick, either. And the last person she wanted running to her rescue was Nolan. He’d only use it against her, as proof that she should go back to the cosy comfortable world of her parents. She’d almost proved she could live entirely on her own, without relying on interest from her trust fund.

“Nolan’s not at the office,” Barbara said a moment later, replacing the receiver. “I’ll talk to him when he comes in.”

“No, you won’t! Barbara, I swear to you I’ll personally give your phone number to every trucker who comes into this place if you so much as say a single word to Nolan.”

“Honey,” the other waitress said, raising her eyebrows, “you’d be doing me a favor!”

Grumbling, Maryanne returned to her customers.

By closing time, however, she was feeling slightly worse. Not exactly sick, but not exactly herself, either. Barbara was watching Maryanne closely, regularly feeling her cheeks and forehead and muttering about her temperature. If there was one thing to be grateful for, it was the fact that Nolan hadn’t shown up. Barbara insisted Maryanne leave a few minutes early and shooed her out the door. Had she been feeling better, Maryanne would have argued.

By the time she arrived back at her apartment, she knew beyond a doubt that she was coming down with some kind of virus. Part of her would’ve liked to blame Nolan, but she was the one who’d let herself into his apartment. She was the one who’d lingered there, straightening up the place and staying far longer than necessary.

After a long hot shower, she put on her flannel pyjamas and unfolded her bed, climbing quickly beneath the covers. She’d turned the television on for company and prepared herself a mug of soup. As she took her first sip, she heard someone knock at her door.

“Who is it?” she called out.

“Nolan.”

“I’m in bed,” she shouted.

“You’ve seen me in my robe. It’s only fair I see you in yours,” he yelled back.

Maryanne tossed aside her covers and sat up. “Go away.”

A sharp pounding noise came from the floor, followed by an equally loud roar that proclaimed it time for “Jeopardy”. Apparently Maryanne’s shouting match with Nolan was disrupting Mrs. McBride’s favorite television show.

“Sorry.” Maryanne cupped her hands over her mouth and yelled at the hardwood floor.

“Are you going to let me in, or do I have to get the passkey?” Nolan demanded.

Groaning, Maryanne shuffled across the floor in her giant fuzzy slippers and turned the lock. “Yes?” she asked with exaggerated patience.

For the longest moment, Nolan said nothing. He shoved his hands deep into the pockets of his beige raincoat. “How are you?”

Maryanne glared at him with all the indignation she could muster, which at the moment was considerable. “Do you mean to say you practically pounded down my door to ask me that?”

He didn’t bother to answer, but walked into her apartment as though he had every right to do so. “Barbara phoned me.”

“Oh, brother! And what exactly did she say?” She continued to hold open the door, hoping he’d get the hint and leave.

“That you caught my bug.” His voice was rough with ill-disguised worry.

“Wrong. I felt a bit under the weather earlier, but I’m fine now.” The last thing she wanted Nolan motivated by was guilt. He’d succeeded in keeping his distance up to now; if he decided to see her, she wanted to be sure his visit wasn’t prompted by an overactive sense of responsibility.

“You look…”

“Yes?” she prompted.

His gaze skimmed her, from slightly damp hair to large fuzzy feet. “Fine,” he answered softly.

“As you can see I’m really not sick, so you needn’t concern yourself.”

Her words were followed by a lengthy silence. Nolan turned as though to leave. Maryanne should have felt relieved to see him go, instead, she experienced the strangest sensation of loss. She longed to reach out a hand, ask him to stay, but she didn’t have the courage.

She brushed the hair from her face and smiled, even though it was difficult to put on a carefree facade.

“I’ll stop by in the morning and see how you’re doing,” Nolan said, hovering by the threshold.

“That won’t be necessary.”

He frowned. “When did you get so prickly?”

“When did you get so caring?” The words nearly caught in her throat and escaped on a whisper.

“I do care about you,” he said.

“Oh, sure, the same way you’d care about an annoying younger sister. Believe me, Nolan, your message came through loud and clear. I’m not your type. Fine, I can accept that, because you’re not my type, either.” She didn’t really think she had a type, but it sounded philosophical and went a long way toward salving her badly bruised ego. Nolan couldn’t have made his views toward her any plainer had he rented a billboard. He’d even said he’d taken one look at her and immediately thought, “Here comes trouble.”

She’d never been more attracted to a man in her life, and here she was, standing in front of him lying through her teeth rather than admit how she truly felt.

“So I’m not your type, either?” he asked, almost in a whisper.

Maryanne’s heartbeat quickened. He studied her as intently as she studied him. He gazed at her mouth, then slipped his hand behind her neck and slowly, so very slowly, lowered his lips to hers.

He paused, their mouths a scant inch apart. He seemed to be waiting for her to pull away, withdraw from him. Everything inside her told her to do exactly that. He was only trying to humiliate her, wasn’t he? Trying to prove how powerful her attraction to him was, how easily he could bend her will to his own.

And she was letting him.

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