While he waited, he poured himself a glass of chardonnay. To his surprise, he was nervous. He couldn’t imagine why—or could he? His mind flitted from the past to the present and back again. The past was painful and the present was unpredictable…and the future? Well, who knew about the future?

Initially this relationship hadn’t been too promising, but it had gained momentum in the last few days. Even now he wasn’t entirely convinced that Julie was for real, that the settlement offer truly didn’t interest her.

Gradually Roy could feel himself being drawn toward her, almost against his will. He’d decided never to fall in love again, but Julie Wilcoff made him crave the experience of love, the sensations and the feelings and the hope. This sense of wanting to be part of life again frightened him; so did the eagerness that surged through him at the prospect. Love eventually brought pain and betrayal. Yet all day he’d thought of little else but this dinner with Julie and the kisses they were bound to share.

His phone rang and he reached for the receiver, already knowing it was her. “Hello.”

“I’m here.” Even the sound of her voice was sultry.

He hit the numbers that automatically opened the electronic gates to grant her entrance. He couldn’t resist taking his private elevator to the lobby so he could escort her up to his suite.

Standing by the glass doors that opened into the beautifully decorated lobby, Roy watched as Julie walked from her car to the building. Her head was bent against the cold. She had on a long wool coat, which she’d left unbuttoned. Beneath it, he saw the sleek black skirt and matching jacket with a silky white blouse. He was struck by her loveliness. Every time he saw her, she seemed to look more beautiful. Was that just a matter of perception or was he finally seeing what had always been there?

He held the door and stepped back to let her enter. Once she was inside, he made a leisurely appraisal and sucked in his breath. He could think of only one word. “Wow!”

“You like?” Holding open her coat, she slowly pivoted to give him a better look.

“I like a lot.”

“Don’t act so surprised,” she muttered. “I clean up good.”

“I’ll say.” With his hand at her elbow, he steered her toward the elevator, which took them directly to the suite, the doors opening into his living room, with the large picture windows that overlooked Lake Washington. He’d grown accustomed to the spectacular sight and it no longer astonished him as it once had. But the view captured Julie’s attention the instant she stepped out of the elevator. An uninterrupted panorama of Lake Washington and the sparkling Seattle lights stretched before her like some kind of Christmas fantasy.

“Oh, Roy,” she whispered, “this takes my breath away.”

“It’s what sold me on the place.” To his chagrin, she remained rooted to the spot. Seemingly without her noticing, he took off her coat, one sleeve at a time, and hung it in the hall closet. When he returned, she still hadn’t moved.

“The parade of ships is supposed to start in less than thirty minutes.”

She walked close to the window and, standing next to her, Roy pointed out some of the sights. “Naturally, the view is even more spectacular in daylight,” he said.

“I can hardly imagine anything more beautiful than this.” She hadn’t even glanced around his condo, but Roy didn’t care. Although it was a showpiece, he rarely had anyone up to visit. He’d heard that people were curious about his home, but Julie was obviously more intrigued by the view.

Without asking, Roy poured her a glass of wine. Joining her once again, he handed it to her. “Shall we have a drink before we eat?”

“Thank you.” She accepted the glass, then turned back to stare out the window. “I can’t bear to look away. This is just so beautiful.”

He’d thought he’d wait to kiss her, but realized that delaying it another moment was beyond him. Taking the wineglass from her hand, placing it on the wide windowsill, he gently turned her toward him. “What you need is a distraction.”

He didn’t know a woman of thirty could blush, but blush she did. For long seconds her eyes searched his, telling him she wanted his kiss.

Bringing her into his arms, he watched as her eyes drifted closed and she leaned into his embrace. Then they were kissing with the familiarity and ease of longtime lovers. Roy felt a small tremor go through her, or perhaps he was the one who trembled; he no longer knew. What he did know was how good it felt to hold her.

She was taller than any other woman he’d kissed, broader through the shoulders, too, but he liked that. In fact, he liked everything about Julie. He immediately wanted to kiss her again. She opened to him a little more, parting her lips, as her arms slid upward and around his neck.

A voice in his mind started shouting that kissing her was too wonderful to continue without consequences. He hadn’t intended to let things go this far, this fast, but there was no stopping either of them. Not yet. A few more kisses and then he’d pull away and they could go back to enjoying their wine.

Another kiss. Then he’d stop. Then he’d pause long enough to clear his head.

But already his hands, which had been innocently stroking her back, had worked their way down her waist. He loved the feel of her, loved the gentle contours of her utterly feminine body. As their kissing went on, it was hard to keep from touching more and more of her.

It’d been a long time since anything had felt so good.

“Nice,” he whispered, reluctantly easing his mouth from hers. He could barely think, barely focus on anything but the woman in his arms.

“Very nice,” she whispered.

Their eyes held. Her hands remained on his shoulders and his stayed on her waist. “Are you ready for dinner?”

She gave him the softest smile. “No.” Her voice was a mere wisp of sound.

“Me, neither.” He kissed her again, his mouth coaxing hers. Her lips were pliant, warm, moist. He didn’t know how long they went on like that, lost in each other.

“Julie, listen…” Even to his own ears his voice was hoarse. He braced his forehead against hers.

“I’m listening.”

“We’re getting a little hot and heavy here.”

“Yes…I’d noticed.” She kissed the side of his neck and shivers raced down his spine.

“You don’t have to be so agreeable.”

He splayed his fingers through her hair, thinking that would bring her to her senses. In his experience, women didn’t want their hair disheveled. Julie hardly seemed aware of it. He should have known….

He purposely pulled away, thinking that too much of a good thing would soon bore him. But he wasn’t bored. In this, as in everything else, Julie had the opposite effect on him.

“We should have dinner now.” With a superhuman effort he dropped his arms and took a step back. Julie reached for her wineglass and Roy saw that her hands trembled.

He spent a few moments regaining his composure in the kitchen. Dinner, a chicken dish—he couldn’t remember what the caterer had called it—was warming in the oven. The salad sat on the top shelf of the refrigerator. Roy opened the door and stood directly in the blast of cold air with his eyes closed, hoping it would shock him into reality.

“It looks like the parade’s about to start,” Julie called from the other room.

Roy grinned. She was at the window again. “I’ll be a couple of minutes.”

“Don’t rush on my account.”

The meal now seemed a necessary nuisance. The truth was, Roy had no appetite for anything but Julie. For days he’d been conscious of how badly he wanted to kiss her, but he hadn’t known what to expect once he did.

“Can I do anything to help?” Julie asked, coming into the kitchen. She sounded far more like herself.

“Not a thing. All I have to do is bring these dishes into the dining room.” He carried the salad out and set it on the table.

Julie walked over to the fireplace and once again her back was to him. “Your home is lovely.”

“Would you like a tour before we eat?”

She turned around, then surprised him by shaking her head. “I’m afraid we might not make it out of the bedroom.”

Roy had always found her honesty refreshing and never more than at that moment. He chuckled. “I’m feeling the same way myself.”

“I…we haven’t known each other long enough for that kind of commitment.”

Now, that was a word Roy tended to avoid. Instead of commenting, he chose to ignore it. “The salad is served.” He stood behind her chair and held it for her.

Once Julie was seated, he took his own place across from her; they both had a full view of the parade of Christmas ships as they sailed or motored past. Julie remarked every now and then on a certain theme or design. After a second glass of wine, she declined another.

Rejecting caution, Roy poured himself a third. He needed something to fortify him if he was going to battle temptation. And Julie tempted him, all right. It wasn’t easy to admit that, since Roy was a man who enjoyed being in control. And yet all through dinner—the chicken-and-mushroom dish, new potatoes and sautéed spinach—it wasn’t the food so expertly prepared or even their conversation that engaged him. No, what was foremost in Roy’s mind was the desire he felt for Julie. This weakness distressed him and yet…he hadn’t felt so alive in years.

“Dessert?” Julie asked.

The question startled Roy and he suddenly realized she’d carried the dinner plates into the kitchen and returned with two dessert plates. Cheesecake, if he recalled correctly.

“No.” For emphasis he shook his head. “On second thought…” He caught her around the waist and pulled her onto his lap.

She set the plates on the table, her face near his. Her eyes, dark and intense, were wide and so very expressive. They told him she wanted to kiss him again. Her throat was flushed, her skin warm. If her feelings were this easy to decipher, he could only imagine what she could read in his face.

“We’re supposed to be watching the ships, remember?” Her voice trembled.

“I know.”

She sighed and asked, “What’s happening to us?”

Roy knew, but he didn’t like the answer any more than he welcomed the question. “I don’t think we need to figure that out just yet.”

“My head’s spinning—and it doesn’t have anything to do with the wine.”

“Mine, too,” he told her. The alcohol was only partially responsible for the dizziness he was feeling.

“I…I saw a fish fly this afternoon,” she whispered. Her mouth was close to his ear.

Roy frowned, not understanding.

“It’s true,” she said, her voice still low. “I was at the Pike Place Market, and it seemed to leap off the crushed ice and fly of its own accord.”

“That isn’t possible,” Roy said impatiently. Either it was a trick of the eye or sleight of hand.

“That’s what I thought,” Julie told him. “Then it happened again and someone else saw it, too.”