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Excerpt: Asking for Trouble

Excerpt: Asking for Trouble

Book 3: The Kincaids

He’d been so hot, that first Christmas. When she’d first seen him looking at her, his face set and still, rough-hewn even then, seeming to have been carved, not too expertly, out of slabs of rock. Cheekbones, brow ridges, jawline, chin, all so strongly drawn, so uncompromising. His light brown hair cut short, the pale blue eyes intense, so compelling that she’d found it hard to look away.

He had eyes like an animal, she’d thought in a flight of fancy, lying in bed that night and remembering the way he’d looked at her, savoring the image of him. Not a lion or a tiger. A wolf, maybe. A blue-eyed wolf, intent, watching. She shivered at the thought of it, not even quite sure how to put a name to the feelings that were making her hot enough to kick off the covers, shift restlessly in bed, shove the pillow between her legs.

And it got worse the next day. When she saw him in his boots and black leather jacket, it turned her insides to liquid, started delicious tingles down low in her belly. He was taller than her father, six-three at least, even taller with the boots on. As broad across the shoulders as her dad, too, as broad as Gabe, though there was a rawboned look to him. He was all thick muscle and heavy bone, nothing soft about him, not one bit a boy. So much a man. So much older than her brothers, especially when he turned that level gaze on her.

She’d done her best that week to make him like her as much as she liked him, to penetrate his wall of reserve. She’d teased him, the way that usually made boys smile, made them laugh, made them hang around her locker to talk to her. And when she’d got Joe to smile, a quirk of the lips, a warming of the eyes, she’d felt a rush of triumph that had proved short-lived, because after that, she could feel him drawing back as if he didn’t want to be close to her, didn’t even want to look at her. And the more she tried, the more she seemed to drive him away. She’d concluded at last, a little hurt, a little angry, that he just didn’t like her. Or, worse, that he could tell she had a crush on him, and it embarrassed him, and he was trying to discourage her.

There had been one bright spot, the morning of the day when he and Alec had left to go back to school. She’d been lying on her stomach on the couch, watching cartoons on TV, because she was bored and there was nothing to do, and he came into the room with something bunched in his hand, then stopped halfway in, seeming to hesitate.

She sat up, grabbed for the remote and hastily turned the TV off so she wouldn’t look immature. She wished she’d been watching something educational, or reading a book, or doing homework, even though school was out. Studying. Wearing glasses, maybe. Looking serious, like him. He probably liked serious girls.

He was still standing there, so she shoved her hair back behind her ear and smiled at him, hoping she still had some lip gloss on. She’d put it on along with some mascara this morning, as she had every morning during this vacation, but that had been before breakfast. She should have checked again.

“I have this,” he said, frowning at her the way he always did and hefting the thing a little. “An Eielson T-shirt. The Air Force base,” he explained. “In Alaska. And I thought . . .” He cleared his throat. “It seemed like you like T-shirts.”

“I do,” she said, still smiling encouragingly. “I love them.” She was wearing her Huskies Football T-shirt right now, the one Gabe had brought her from Washington.

“My sister sent this to me,” he said. “For Christmas. But she didn’t know I’d grown, I guess, and it’s too small. So I thought . . . I mean, just if you want it. I don’t want to throw it away.”

He held it out, and she jumped up from the couch and took it from him, held it up in front of her. A simple dark-blue T-shirt, the base’s name emblazoned on the front.

“It’ll be too big, I know,” he said hastily. “And it’s a man’s. So maybe not.”

“No,” she said. “It’s perfect. I’ll wear it to bed. I love it.”

He looked even more stone-faced, not even pleased, just gave her a little nod. “OK, then.” And then he turned around and left the room, and an hour later, left with Alec.

She’d worn his shirt to bed every night for months, and thought about him, and dreamed about him. Her first tentative sexual fantasies had been about Joe. Vague and romantic, with kissing heavily featured, and him telling her how crazy he was about her, how he couldn’t get her out of his head.

But when she’d seen him next, almost a year later, when Alec had brought him home for Thanksgiving, he’d been more grown up, more remote than ever. And nothing had changed. Fifteen years later, and he was still spending his Christmas vacations gazing unsmilingly at her as if he were measuring her, and she wasn’t measuring up.

Well, she was tired of it. Fifteen years was long enough to want a man who’d never want her back. She was going to get over Joe Hartman. This was the last Christmas she was going to spend fantasizing about him. She was done.

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