“Okay,” Sharon said, but her tone implied she clearly didn’t agree with her friend’s choice. “You know where to find me.” She signed the credit-card slip, accepted the receipt and put both it and her wallet back in her handbag.

Then she picked up the large box holding the coffee machine.

“Need help getting it to the car?” Gabrielle asked.

“I’ll be fine. Will you?

Gabrielle smiled. “Yes. I will. Because this time I know the worst-case scenario ahead of time. I dealt with it once and I survived. Besides, I’m older and wiser now.”

Sharon frowned. “Then why are you going back to hit your head against the same brick wall?”

“Because some walls can be moved with the right kind of force. Quit worrying. I’ll see you tonight.” She turned and started to walk away. She’d just do some browsing before she had to meet up with Derek and Holly for lunch.

“Richard has some nice friends he can introduce you to,” Sharon called out.

Gabrielle merely laughed and waved, ignoring the suggestion. She had spent the past dozen years trying to find a man who compared to Derek, one who could fill her emotionally and physically the way he had. None had even come close.

If she was being offered a second chance with Derek, she had to take it.

DEREK NEEDN’T HAVE WORRIED about lunch being awkward. Not when his daughter and his childhood sweetheart had bonded over hamburgers and french fries. How Holly had talked Gabrielle into trying her favorite food, he still couldn’t figure out.

They had more in common than he’d ever have believed. From books Gabrielle had read as a child to current shows on TV, Gabrielle could relate to his daughter. Derek was so drawn by the animated way his daughter spoke to Gabrielle and fascinated by the serious way Gabrielle listened to Holly, he barely tasted his burger.

Holly, who’d been living with Derek for a few weeks without a female in sight, suddenly blossomed in front of him.

Although his father had introduced her to a few kids in town, the one girl Holly had hit it off with had gone on vacation with her parents almost immediately. She’d be back soon and he hoped then Holly would have someone to hang out with. But until today he hadn’t realized how starved his daughter must have been for female attention.

A short while later, Derek drove them back. Gabrielle’s car was at Sharon’s parents’ house at the far end of town. He turned onto Main Street as he, Holly and Gabrielle talked about the newest hit song on the radio.

“Dad, that’s Grandpa outside the hardware store. Look!” Holly pointed at the window where his father stood talking to a bunch of older men. “Can I go say hi?”

Derek slowed the truck down and pulled over. Rolling down the window, he called for his father’s attention. Hank waved, then returned to his conversation with Burt, the owner.

“If he’s going straight home, I’m going to get a ride with him, okay?”

“Sure. Just make sure you wave, so I know it’s okay with Dad. And remember to look both ways before you cross the street.” There weren’t many cars, but he wanted to make sure she was safe. “In fact, let me help you-”

“Dad!” she said, horrified. “I live in Manhattan. I think I can handle Main Street.”

Beside him, Gabrielle chuckled.

“Sorry. I’m a parent. What can I say?” he said, spreading his hands out in front of him.

“Actually, I think it’s sweet,” she said, her eyes drinking him in with a heat that hadn’t been there while she’d been focused on his daughter.

But Holly was now leaving, and apparently, Gabrielle took that as a sign.

“I had such a good time. Can we take that trip to Target one day soon?” Holly asked Gabrielle.

She nodded. “You bet.”

Holly’s eyes lit up. “Bye!” She leaned into the front and hugged Derek, her earlier mortification over his protective comments forgotten.

Then she was gone. He watched her look both ways before running across the street and exhaled a sigh of relief.

“She’s amazing, Derek,” Gabrielle said, not letting an awkward silence take over.

“Thank you. I like to think so, but I can’t take much credit for it.” As he watched, Holly spoke to her grandfather, then turned and waved, indicating to Derek he could leave.

Suddenly eager to be alone with Gabrielle, at least for a short time, he put the truck in Drive and pulled back into traffic. Maybe it would be easier to tell her more about his daughter while he was occupied driving.

At least then he wouldn’t have to look into her beautiful eyes and admit the truth-he’d been a bad parent. “I wasn’t there for her much,” he said, forcing the words out.

Gabrielle placed her hand on his shoulder. “I can’t imagine that. Why don’t you start at the beginning?”

He nodded. They both knew that their ending was his beginning and he drew a deep breath before diving in. “I was a mess after we broke up. I threw myself into partying at school, skipping classes…anything to forget.”

She leaned closer, her hand remaining on his shoulder. As a distraction while driving, it was a potent one, and he forced his concentration on the road where it belonged.

“And were you able to forget me?” she asked, her fingers stroking the sensitive spot at the base of his neck.

He shivered. “No,” he said, his voice hoarse. “But I wasn’t functioning on all burners, either. I met Marlene, Holly’s mother, at a party.” He swallowed hard. “She was fun and we had enough in common to stay together for a while…I eventually got her pregnant.”

“Turn left,” Gabrielle whispered, her breath warm in his ear.

He remembered where Sharon’s parents lived, but he wasn’t about to remind her and change the subject. He needed to get this story out.

“I did the right thing,” he continued. “I married her. Her mother was widowed and living in New York City, so she helped with the baby, and somehow we both finished school.”

“Turn right. Last house on the left,” Gabrielle said.

He flipped on his signal and turned. “I figured since we weren’t in love in the traditional sense, it would work out. After all, the curse was supposed to only affect Corwin men who fell in love. Only it didn’t turn out that way.” He pulled into the last driveway on the left and put the SUV in Park.

She hadn’t spoken. “Are you still with me?” He turned toward her.

She still leaned close, her lips hovering near his. “Did you just say you weren’t in love with her?” Gabrielle asked.

“That’s exactly what I said.”

She unhooked her seat belt and it snapped back into place. “Thank God.” Her sigh of relief got lost as she threw her arms around his neck and kissed him.

He should have been surprised, but this was Gabrielle. His body had been primed since laying eyes on her, ready since she’d set her delicate fingers on the base of his neck. She’d always known just how to touch him to set him aflame.

Time hadn’t changed a thing.

Her lips were full, warm, lush and welcoming. She kissed him as if she knew him inside and out, yet still had more places to find and things to learn. Her tongue slid back and forth inside his mouth, tasting and teasing. She nibbled his lower lip with her teeth, then soothed the sting with a silken slide of her tongue. And all the while, her fingers traced his face, as if relearning him all over again.

His body burned and he groaned aloud. Cupping his hand around the back of her neck, he tipped her head and took control. He’d never wanted a woman the way he did Gabrielle. He could make love to her once and want her again almost immediately. And if he thought their teenage passion had been something, the intensity of their adult need surprised even him.

His tongue tangled with hers and her body melted into him, as close as she could get with the center panel of the SUV lodged between them. She shifted and her elbow hit the horn, the loud noise jarring them both.

She jumped back into her seat, laughing. “Wow. I think I had more finesse when I was younger.”

He drank in her flushed face and red lips as he tried to catch his breath. “Oh, I think you still have plenty of

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