Harry couldn’t stand it. He reached out hesitantly, knowing that touching her was a major mistake. Still, he awkwardly placed the palm of his hand on her back. “I’m sorry,” he said.
Alessandra sat up and turned toward him, throwing herself into his arms as if she were starved for any kind of human contact — even from a man she professed to hate. “I want to go home,” she whispered. “Please, can’t you just take me home?”
Her home was a pile of rubble and ashes, cordoned off by yellow crime-scene tape.
He patted her back awkwardly, ineffectively, afraid to hold her too tightly. “I can’t do that, Barbara.”
“God, don’t call me that!”
“It’s your name now. You’ve got to get used to it.”
“I don’t want to get used to it! I want to go home! I want to be able to visit Jane.” She lifted her head. “Please, Harry! She must wonder where I’ve gone. I just want to go back to Long Island.”
His heart twisted. “I can’t take you there.”
“Can’t or won’t?” Her mascara ran down her cheeks in smudgy black rivers. “I don’t have to be here here, do I? You can’t make me stay. Can you?”
Oh, damn. He could not let her leave. “It is your choice, but–”
“Maybe I should just go and take my chances with Michael Trotta.”
Harry gripped her more tightly. “Do you want to die? Is that what you want?”
“No! But I don’t believe Michael really wants to kill me. I find it hard to…After I returned the money…?” She wiped her eyes, tried to explain. “If I stay here, I’m going only on what the FBI is telling me. How do I know you’re not wrong?”
He held on to her shoulders, afraid if he let her go, she’d realize that she could leave. And she could leave. At any given time, she could just get up and walk away from all of them. Straight back to Trotta. Who would kill her.
Harry did not want her to die. “We’re not wrong.”
“But if you are…Don’t you see? I could have my life back.”
He pulled her even closer, holding her tightly against him, pressing her head against his chest, knowing what she wanted, knowing how she felt. It wasn’t fair. Her life had been taken from her. The injustice was profound. “You can’t, Allie. It’s gone. The house is gone. Everything’s gone.”
She shook her head as if blocking out his words. “I want my life back.” She made a noise that was half sob, half laughter. “God, sometimes I think I’d even take Griffin back if I could.”
“You can’t,” Harry said flatly. “He’s dead. Go back to Long Island, and you’re dead, too.”
She gripped his jacket. “If I stay, I’m Barbara Conway. Alessandra Lamont will be just as dead.”
“Yeah, well, maybe it’s about time you got rid of her anyway, huh?”
She lifted her head at that, her eyes wide, tears clinging to her eyelashes. His nose was inches from hers, her mouth close enough to kiss.
Close enough to kiss.
Harry saw the exact moment she, too, realized she was in his arms. And just like that, their embrace wasn’t only about comfort anymore.
She felt like a woman — no longer just another human body against him, but a female body with soft, full breasts. He felt the tautness of her thigh, the curve of her hips. He felt the promise of something incredible.
And his arms no longer felt awkward around her. His hands settled comfortably, one against the small of her back, the other tucked up against her neck, beneath her hair. She was a perfect fit. And he was holding her so easily, as if he’d been practicing for this moment for most of his life.
It wouldn’t take much effort for him to lower his head and cover her mouth with his. Her breath smelled like coffee and chocolate, and he knew she would taste just as sweet.
But he didn’t move, and she didn’t either. He didn’t speak, and she, too, was silent. They just hung there, suspended, hardly even daring to breathe.
Seconds ticked by, more and more of them. Why the hell didn’t she pull away? Did she want him to kiss her? Dammit, what was he doing? Kissing her would be completely insane.
Harry slowly lowered his head and she still didn’t pull away. In fact, she lifted her face and–
The front door opened behind them, and Alessandra sprang up and away from him.
George pushed open the screen, giving Harry a look that told him he hadn’t missed the implications of Alessandra’s rushed movement — her imitation of teenagers getting too friendly on the playroom couch, startled by mom or dad. “All clear. Nic wants you inside.”
Alessandra was wiping her face again and trying futilely to fix her hair. She adjusted the holes in the knees of her pants, but it was hopeless. Until she washed her face and changed her clothes, she was going to look bedraggled, not chic.
“You got a hankerchief?” Harry asked George.
Of course George had one. He silently handed it to Harry, who passed it to Alessandra, who kept her tear-streaked face carefully averted.
“We’ll be in in a sec,” Harry told his partner.
George discreetly faded back, closing thedoor almost all the way behind him as Alessandra wiped her eyes and blew her nose with an indelicate honk.
What was he supposed to say? Should he apologize for almost kissing her? Or apologize for not taking the opportunity to kiss her when he could have? It would probably be good to address this attraction thing pointblank. Acknowledge it, get it out on the table between them, and deal with it accordingly. When Alessandra took a breath, about to speak, Harry steeled himself for the words to come. She’d been caught up in the emotion of the moment. She didn’t like him. She’d appreciate it if he could keep his wandering hands to himself from now on.
She said none of those things. “I don’t want them to know I’ve been crying,” she admitted, her back still toward him. “Don’t tell them I was crying–please?”
Or…she could completely ignore the almost-kiss. Simply pretend it didn’t happen. That was definitely an option.
He cleared his throat. “I won’t.”
Alessandra turned to face him. “Do you think they’ll be able to tell I was crying?”
Harry gazed at her mascara-smeared raccoon eyes, still puffy with emotion, at her red nose, at the tear-streak lines visible on her cheeks where her makeup had been washed away. He wondered if he had kissed her, would she still have pretended it hadn’t happened? “Yep.”
“That definite, huh?”
He took his sunglasses from his jacket pocket and handed them to her. “These’ll help.”
Copyright 1999 by Suzanne Brockmann