Under The Mistletoe With John Doe, page 7
John chuckled. “You’ll have to introduce me to him. I haven’t met any rambling old men around here.”
Dr. Graham, with his thick head of white hair, lively blue eyes and quick wit, could put an interesting spin on a conversation, and John couldn’t help but like him.
“And speaking of having you around,” Doc said as he got to his feet, “let’s get these dishes done.”
“You got it.”
There wasn’t much to clean up this evening, but John helped by putting the leftovers into the fridge and wiping the counters, while Doc filled the dishwasher. Then, as was becoming their habit in the evenings, Doc picked up his novel-this time one by Michael Crichton-and settled into his easy chair, while John went out to the porch.
But it wasn’t fresh air or peace and quiet that he was seeking; it was Betsy. She’d been working the day shift this past week and usually got home around eight. But it was well past that now.
He lifted his wrist to check the time, a useless habit that continued after his mugging. And as he glanced at the place where a watch used to be, he was again reminded of all that had been stolen from him.
It had to be close to nine when Betsy finally arrived home, and John got up from his seat and met her in the driveway.
“I was getting worried about you,” he said, as he approached her car.
“My parents just got home from their trip to Galveston this afternoon, so I stopped by to see them.”
“Did they have fun?”
“Well, the bus broke down once. But other than that, they had a great time.” Betsy pushed the remote on her key chain, locking the doors. “My mom picked up a boysenberry-flavored herb tea while she was gone, so I stayed and had a cup with her.”
They walked to the porch, but she didn’t take a seat. Instead, she stood at the railing and peered into the Texas night. There was something about this place that renewed her spirit and cleared her head.
“It’s nice that you and your parents are close,” John said.
Betsy smiled and turned away from the railing, facing John instead. “I’ve really been blessed.”
“Have you ever wanted to find your biological parents?”
The question took her aback, but she answered truthfully. “No, not really.”
She’d always been curious about her birth parents, of course, but she’d never tried to track them down. She wouldn’t do anything that might hurt the people who’d raised her and had earned the titles of Mom and Dad. So she’d embraced the wonderful parents she had.
“Don’t you ever wonder about them?”
“Sure. I think most people who’ve been adopted do.” She studied the man before her, realizing he knew less about his birth family than she did. And she found herself telling him something she hadn’t told anyone else. “Actually, my biological mother’s attorney contacted me a couple of weeks ago and asked to set up a meeting.”
“And did you? Agree to meet her?”
“Not right now.”
She couldn’t deny a curiosity about the woman, especially after the attorney had said, “She’d like to know if your hair is still red. It was that color when you were a newborn.”
Many women who gave up their babies chose not to see them or hold them, and Betsy wondered if her birth mom had been an exception. A part of her hoped so.
Nevertheless, she told the woman’s attorney that yes, she was a redhead. And that her life was a little too complicated to set up a meeting for the time being.
Besides, getting involved in any kind of relationship right now, especially with a woman she knew nothing about, could really complicate her life.
It would be risky, too. What if she was disappointed? What if she met her biological family and realized they could have made television appearances on The Jerry Springer Show?
No, she didn’t want to deal with anything like that now. And even if she did, there was one thing she valued above everything else: people who’d proven themselves as loving, dependable and trustworthy.
“In some ways, we’ve got a lot in common,” he said. “Neither of us have much knowledge of our roots.”
Yes, but while he’d probably give anything to learn more about his, she wasn’t eager to face the changes that the past might make in her life. Not if it might hurt her parents.
He grew pensive for a moment, and she figured that he was wondering about his family, about the place he’d come from, and her heart went out to him.
As he glanced down at his feet, she took the time to study him. He was dressed in one of the new outfits she’d purchased-jeans and a flannel shirt. And he was wearing Doc’s jacket again. He looked like any of the local ranchers, albeit a lot more handsome. Yet she had to remind herself that he was a stranger, no matter how familiar he seemed.
“So how did your day go?” she asked, trying to draw him from the thoughts that appeared to be dragging him down.
He looked up and shrugged. “I managed to get some work done. I repaired a gate on the corral and mucked out the stalls. Then I made friends with a couple of horses.”
She couldn’t help but laugh. “I’ve got to get you out into the real world and around more people.”
“I don’t know about that,” he said. “Buck and Sadie are awfully nice. And they pretty much go along with everything I say.”
“There’s something to be said about that, I suppose.”
Their gazes locked, and the humorous moment passed, leaving something else in its wake. Something charged with heat.
“Would you like to go riding with me someday?” he asked.
Was he thinking that the outing would be a date?
The spark in his eyes and a spike in her heart rate suggested that he was. Yet in spite of all the reasons she should decline, she couldn’t help thinking a ride on a Sunday afternoon would be a nice change to her routine.
“Sure,” she said, “but you’ll have to give me a gentle horse. I’m really not what you’d call a cowgirl.”
“It’s pretty easy. I’ll teach you whatever you need to know.”
“You’ve got experience with horses?”
“I think so.” His brow furrowed as he gave it some further thought.
So the man she’d considered a city boy had country roots? Or was she wrong about her assumptions?
She could see the same questions in his eyes, the frustration at not even knowing a few of the basics.
Unable to help herself, she reached out and stroked his cheek, fingering his solid, square-cut jaw, the faint bristle of his beard.
His gaze locked on hers, stirring up something deep within her, and any reservations about getting involved with him flew out the window.
As he lowered his mouth to hers, his musky, masculine scent assaulted her better judgment and set her mind swirling in a maelstrom of desire.
This was so not what she’d planned, but it no longer seemed to matter.
He brushed his lips against hers, once, twice, a third time. Then he took her mouth and claimed it as his own.
The kiss intensified, and she opened her mouth, letting his tongue mate with hers. She leaned into him, wrapping her arms around him, holding him close.
Closing her eyes, she let herself go, losing herself in a surge of pheromones and need, kissing him deeply, thoroughly.
She couldn’t remember the last time she and Doug had kissed-certainly long before their split. But she couldn’t remember it being anything like this. She tried to blame it on hormones and the sexual drought she’d been living in since her divorce. But something told her it had nothing to do with biology and everything to do with the man whose hands were exploring her back, her hips, her…
Oh, Lordy. Her knees were giving out on her, and an ache was settling deep in her core, demanding she throw caution to the wind. But Doug’s deception was still too fresh on her mind, and so was her decision not to get involved with a stranger.
So she placed her hand on John’s chest, where his heart pounded in a primal rhyt
But someone had to be strong, had to consider the repercussions. And as she gave a gentle push against him, as she pulled her mouth from his, she grieved for what she was denying them.
He sucked in a breath and raked a hand through his hair, as though taken aback by the heat of what they’d just shared.
“I’m sorry,” she said.
It had only been a kiss, a small voice inside her argued. But it had been so much more than a kiss. It had been a sexual prelude to something she could only imagine.
“I shouldn’t have let that happen,” she said. “I don’t want you to get the wrong idea.”
“The wrong idea about what? The fact that we’re attracted to each other? That kissing you again could lead to a whole lot more?”
All she had left was her honesty. “It was good to say the least. But a physical relationship isn’t a good idea for either one of us at this point in time.”
She’d already made one mistake in her life: she’d fallen for a man who wasn’t the person she’d thought he was. And she was on the verge of repeating the same mistake.
If she hadn’t already.
Betsy was in trouble.
With her mind spinning, her senses reeling and her knees struggling to keep her body upright, she left John on the porch of Doc’s house and returned home, determined to put the kiss they’d shared behind her. But she couldn’t seem to get it out of her mind.
Had another man’s kiss ever rocked her to the core like John’s had? If so, she couldn’t remember who the accomplished kisser could have been.
Certainly not Doug.
Once she let herself into the privacy of her cozy living room, she tried all of her old tricks for relaxing-a warm bubble bath and a cup of chamomile tea-but she didn’t sleep a wink that night.
She finally picked up a book she’d been meaning to read, something she’d borrowed from Doc a few weeks ago and had set on her nightstand. But the opening pages of the mystery couldn’t compete with the memory that still simmered in her mind, and she couldn’t seem to lose herself in a fictional story. Not when she was so caught up in the reality of what had just happened.
By the time dawn broke over the ranch, she finally dozed off for a couple of hours. But she was up again by nine and decided to take a shower and start her day.
As she looked into the bathroom mirror, she saw those dark crescents under her eyes that Doc always managed to spot. She’d have to use makeup today or risk having him say something again.
All she needed was for Doc-or worse, John-to realize that she’d hardly slept a wink last night and to assume the kiss had anything to do with it. Trouble was, it had knocked her world off its axis. And she didn’t want anyone to suspect that she was the least bit unbalanced by it.
So she showered and shampooed her hair. After drying off, she dressed quickly, choosing a pair of comfortable blue jeans and a green sweater. Next she applied a light coat of foundation, taking care to conceal the circles under her eyes, and topped it off with a bit of lipstick and mascara. Then she blow-dried her hair.
She didn’t take time to do anything to it, other than pull it back in a rubber band. She had to get out of here. There was no way she could hang out at the ranch today and risk running into John.
What would she say to him? How would she act?
Sure, she’d told him last night that a relationship between them wasn’t going anywhere. And it wasn’t. She couldn’t allow anything like that to happen until she knew more about him, about the values and personal ethics that drove him.
And whether he had a family waiting for him somewhere.
So, eager to disappear for the day, she called her parents and asked if they wanted to get a bite to eat.
“We play with our bridge group at two,” her dad said. “But we’d love to have an early lunch with you, honey. What time will you be here?”
She glanced at her wristwatch. “About ten-thirty. We can decide where to go when I get there.”
After ending the call, she grabbed her purse and walked out of the house, planning to make a beeline to her car. But once outside, she spotted Doc’s red Chevy S-10 pickup with its hood raised.
John stood in front of the vehicle, peering at the engine as if checking the oil or fixing a loose wire.
As much as she’d like to blend into the ranch scenery and fade into the distance, she knew he would notice her and that she’d have to acknowledge him somehow.
And she’d been right. Just as she reached her car, John slammed down the hood and brushed his hands together.
Okay, she thought, it was showtime.
The minute he spotted her, a smile broke across his face, giving him a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed appearance. It seemed pretty safe to assume that thoughts of the kiss hadn’t interrupted his sleep habits in the least.
“Good morning,” she said, trying to appear cheerful and unaffected by the sight of him, even though her heart was doing loop de loops.
Her steps slowed as she watched him approach, the late-morning sun glistening off the black strands of his hair, his blue eyes glimmering.
“Are you going someplace?” he asked.
She fingered the narrow shoulder strap of her purse. “Into town to see my folks. Why?”
“I have an appointment with Dr. Kelso at ten-thirty, and Doc said I could use his truck. But it won’t start. It’s turning over, so it’s not the battery. I have a feeling it’s going to need a new starter, but I don’t have time to work on it now.”
Was he a mechanic? Or did most men have an innate understanding of engines and motors?
She hated not knowing which it was in his case. And even worse, she hated the fact that she was always making assumptions about him, any or all of which could be way off base.
“I don’t suppose I could catch a ride with you?” he said.
Jim Kelso’s office was just a block or so down the street from Shady Glen, so it wouldn’t be out of her way to drop him off.
Besides, what did she expect him to do? Call a cab or hitchhike?
“Sure,” she said. “I can take you.”
“That’s great. Just give me a chance to tell Doc where I’m going.”
Minutes later, John was back and climbing into the passenger seat of her Honda Civic. When he shut the door, filling the air in her lungs with the hint of soap, musk and man, the sides of the compact car seemed to close in on them, forcing them closer together.
As her heart rate soared in reaction to the sight, sound and smell of him, she reminded herself to downplay her interest in him.
But as she turned the car around and headed down the driveway toward the road that led to Brighton Valley, she realized that pretending that she wasn’t attracted to John Doe was going to be as easy as ignoring a full-grown elephant riding in the passenger seat of a compact car.
On the way to town, Betsy had been unusually quiet. She could be pondering a perplexing medical case or something work-related, John supposed, but he couldn’t help thinking that after what had happened last night, she felt uneasy around him.
Neither of them had mentioned their brief but heated encounter in the moonlight, yet he suspected that it was bothering her.
And he could see why it might. Betsy had come alive in his arms. He’d felt her passion, heard her ragged breathing when she’d come up for air.
She’d been just as aroused as he’d been. And that single kiss had convinced him that their lovemaking would be out of this world.
Of course, she’d said it shouldn’t have happened. But it had.
He stole a glance across the seat, as she held on to the steering wheel and peered out the windshield. She’d put on makeup today and had dressed casually. But her expression was as tense and guarded as her grip on the wheel.
More than anything he wanted to put her at ease, to
He wasn’t sure how to broach the subject, though, or how to address the obvious chemistry that simmered between them. So he focused on the here and now. “I really appreciate the ride, Betsy.”
“No problem.” She kept her eyes on the road, her hands on the wheel.
She seemed to have full control of the vehicle. Was she doing the same with her thoughts?
“I have plans with my parents,” she added. “So I won’t be able to take you back to the ranch right away. I hope you don’t mind waiting for me.”
“Not at all. I’m in no hurry. I’ll just hang out in town until you’re finished.”
She shot a glance his way and a slow smile eased the tension from her pretty face. “You know, you might not have to wait for us. I’ve heard that Jim Kelso is always running late. There’s no telling how long you’ll be in his office.”
It irritated him when people couldn’t keep to a schedule or when they weren’t prompt…
His thoughts froze before he could continue and jumbled before he could grasp the how and why.
As a result of the memory misfire, he clamped his mouth shut, giving in to discouragement and silence.
Ten minutes later, Betsy pointed out Shady Glen, the retirement complex where her parents lived. The fairly new redbrick building was several stories high, with flower gardens and a water fountain in the center of a circular drive.
But she passed by it and pulled into the driveway of a gray medical building adjacent to the hospital.
“See?” she said. “It’s just a little over a block away from Dr. Kelso’s office.”
He opened the passenger door and slid out of the car. “Thanks for the ride. I’ll head over to the retirement home when I’m finished and wait for you in the lobby.”
“Good idea. They have plenty of sofas and chairs, a cozy fireplace and a big-screen TV. It’ll be a perfect place for us to meet later.”
“That’ll work.” He tossed her a don’t-worry-about-me grin. “Take your time. And have fun.”
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