“What did you want me to tell her?” he asked, his jaw tight. “That we were lovers?” The word, the thought, the reminder set him on fire.

A slow smile spread across her face. “She’s too young for the truth. I just wanted to see if you remembered,” she said in a husky voice.

His heart slammed harder inside his chest. “I never forgot.”

She inclined her head, a pleased expression on her face. “That’s all I needed to know. I really should get back to Sharon and tell her about the change of plans. Where and when should I meet you for lunch?”

He felt as if he’d been sucker-punched by the past. By her. He needed time to regroup before seeing her again. He glanced at his watch. “There’s a restaurant upstairs. How about we meet there at noon. Does that give you enough time?”

She nodded. “That’s perfect. But I’m afraid I’ll need a ride back. I left my car at Sharon’s place.”

“Not a problem. I’ll drive you wherever you have to go when we’re finished.”

“Thank you.”

Holly ran between them. “The lady started to ring up my things. I just have to grab these, too.” She swept the rest of the pile into her arms. “Are you coming, Dad?”

“In two seconds.”

“Okay. See you at lunch, right?” Holly asked Gabrielle.

“I wouldn’t miss it,” she assured his daughter, her gaze warm and friendly.

Holly darted back toward the cash register and Gabrielle laughed. “She’s a whirlwind.”

“That she is,” he said proudly.

Derek had never envisioned these two females meeting face-to-face, but now that they had, he should be amazed at the instant connection between them. But Holly was his daughter and his connection with Gabrielle had also been instant and intense.

After their breakup, he’d moved on with his life, one day at a time. He’d had no choice. But now that he was with Gabrielle again, his throat grew full with emotions too complex to separate, though he recognized a mix of desire, regrets and hope.

He took the moment to study her. From the tips of those high-heeled shoes his daughter loved, up her long, lean legs, over her hips and waist, she was really something. His gaze lingered on the cleavage peaking above her lacey, sexy top. She was better than the chocolate she’d always loved, he thought.

He reached out and touched her cheek. “You look good, Gabby.”

A visible tremor rippled through her at his touch. “You do, too,” she said.

“Dad! I need money,” Holly called to him.

“You should go to her. I need to tell Sharon about my lunch plans.”

He nodded. “I’ll see you in about an hour.”

She inclined her head and turned to walk away, then pivoted back. “Derek?”


“You owe me a proper hello,” she said, then turned, her high heels clicking as she walked.

He closed his eyes and exhaled hard, trying to let himself think. But only short spurts of thought penetrated the haze of surprise and desire clouding his head.

Gabrielle was back.

And she definitely wasn’t ready to leave the past where it belonged.

GABRIELLE CAUGHT UP WITH Sharon, who had cornered a salesman into demonstrating various coffeemakers. She found Gabrielle and quickly turned back to the salesman. “I’ll take that one,” she said.

“Are you sure?”

Sharon nodded.

“I’ll go get it from the back,” the man said.

“Thank you,” she said, then whirled on Gabrielle. “Well?”

“Well.” Usually not at a loss for words, Gabrielle splayed her hands in front of her, unable to express what had just occurred. She needed time to digest it herself.

“Are you okay?” Sharon asked, her voice filled with concern.

“He called me Gabby,” she said, admitting what had sent her into an emotional tailspin.

Nobody but Derek had ever shortened her name. Hearing it again on his lips had brought back a flood of memories, some good, some bad. Like the late-night phone calls, whispering so she wouldn’t wake her parents, and the long nights tossing and turning afterward, fighting the urge to call him just to hear his voice or the sound of his breathing while she fell asleep.

Whenever she had good news, Derek was the first person she’d tell. And when something went wrong in her life, he was the one she’d turn to for a shoulder to cry on. She didn’t always do as he suggested, and she recalled his frequent frustration at her single-minded determination to do what she wanted. But he’d always supported her.

She’d loved him for that.

She’d loved him. Period.

Sharon placed a hand on her shoulder. “I’m here if you want to talk.”

Gabrielle smiled. “And I appreciate that so much. Listen, they invited me to stay and have lunch with them. Derek said he’d drive me back later to pick up my car.”

The salesman strode through a set of double doors with a large box in his hands.

“Did you pick that one in a rush? Because I don’t want you to have to come back and return it later,” Gabrielle said.

Sharon unzipped her purse and pulled out her wallet. “I was killing time waiting for you, so I made him earn his commission,” she whispered.

Gabrielle laughed. “You are too much.”

With a shrug, Sharon followed the salesman to the register nearby. While he rang up her sale, she focused on Gabrielle.

“Are you sure spending time with Derek and his daughter is a good idea?”

“I’m sure. Holly invited me and she seems like a great kid. One minute she’s rambling like an eleven-year-old and the next we’re talking about designers,” she said, laughing. “Besides, Derek and I have a lot of catching up to do.”

“Do I need to remind you how badly he hurt you? It might have happened a long time ago, but from the look in your eyes, it might just as well have been yesterday.”

Gabrielle shook her head. “No, you don’t need to remind me.” She remembered it all too well.

The morning after their senior prom, he’d taken her off guard by announcing their relationship was over for good, breaking her heart. “A lot has happened since then. Maybe he’s over the curse thing.” She wondered who she was trying to convince, Sharon or herself.

“I’ll take that to mean I’m right and you aren’t over him.”

“Exactly.” Why argue the point? Her friend knew her too well.

Gabrielle came from a family of females who were academics on the surface but passionate romantics at heart. Even at seventeen, she’d had a deep appreciation for things that made her feel good. Sex and chocolate had been two of those things. Sex with Derek had been even better.

“Oh, sweetie, listen, you can’t let yourself go back there. From what I’ve seen over the years, not much has changed with the Corwin men,” Sharon said as she handed the salesman her charge card.

“Maybe not, but you haven’t kept up with Derek personally, right? He could have decided the curse was nothing more than an old family story. I mean, he did get married.” Much as she hated to think of him with another woman.

She’d been with other people, too, but she hadn’t fallen in love with any of them. She hadn’t had their child. She swallowed over the painful lump in her throat.

“A lot has gone on in his life,” Sharon reminded her as if reading her mind.

“True.” But he still looked at her with that intense expression that said he only had eyes for her. His feelings were still there. Whether he’d allow himself to act on them was the question.

Gabrielle was determined to push him hard enough to find out. “I have to get to know him again. I need to know if there’s hope.”

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