“When did you figure out it was Alexi?”

“I’d give anything to say I knew it right away.” He gazed blindly across the room. “But I’m an old pro at trying to blame you for things I can’t handle. It was a week before my head cleared enough to figure that out.”

“A week?” Just about the time she left for Mykonos.

He brushed his thumb over the corner of her mouth and whispered, “I’ll make it up to you. I promise.”

He looked so tortured, she couldn’t stand it, so she glared at him. “Darned right you will. Starting with diamonds.”

His voice caught. “As many as you want.”

She bit his thumb.

He wrapped a lock of her hair around his finger. “I still can’t figure out how he managed to do it. That manuscript was never out of my sight.”

Now she was the one who looked away. “Yes, it was. The night I read it. You went outside, remember? I was alone with that manuscript for hours.”

“Don’t be a brat.” He caught her chin and turned it toward him. Then he kissed her again. Her heart swelled. Even though he didn’t understand how it could be otherwise, he knew she hadn’t betrayed him. He was taking her loyalty on faith.

She cupped that tough, stubborn jaw. “Someone got into the house and photographed the manuscript while we were walking along the ocean that first day. I found the negatives after he died.”

“You found them?” His head came up. “What did you do with them?”

“Burned them, of course.”

“Damn.” He looked annoyed.

She couldn’t believe it. She came up on her elbows. “Damn?”

“I wish you’d talked to me first,” he muttered. “That’s all.”

She couldn’t help it. She pulled the comforter over her head and screamed.

For a moment there was silence. Finally he tugged at the comforter. When he got as far as her nose, he peered down at her. “It’s going to mean a lot of rewriting, that’s all.” His bottom lip looked as sulky as ever.

She nodded toward the Colt. “Is that thing loaded?”

“Of course not.”

“Too bad.”

The windowpanes rattled. He moved the gun out of reach. “Your various friends started calling me after the tabloid article appeared. When they realized how screwed up I was, all hell broke loose. Kissy flew back from her honeymoon. God, that woman can cuss. Simon threatened to go to the newspapers and tell everyone I was gay. Michel hit me.” Fleur looked at him sharply, and he threw up his hands. “I didn’t hit him back. Honest to God.” He sank back under the covers with her. “Even some cretin named Barry Noy got hold of me.”

“You’re kidding.”

“God is my witness.” He stroked her hair. “Do you have any idea how many people love you?”

Her eyes filled with tears. He kept talking and stroking her hair. “I was pretty ragged by the time Belinda found me three days ago. She has a way about her, that mother of yours. She looked at me with those blue eyes and told me I was the most exciting star in Hollywood and that I was throwing away the only woman in the world who was good enough for me.” He shook his head. “But listen to this, Flower. Not one-not one of those interfering sons of bitches had any idea where I could find you!” He shuddered. “Until David Bennis called me yesterday, I thought this time I’d lost you for good. Mykonos! Who the hell goes to Mykonos? If you ever run away from me like that again-”


He crushed her to his chest so hard she thought her ribs would crack. “I’m so sorry, babe. I love you so much. You mean everything to me. When that story broke, everybody was trying to get to me. Peel off my skin. Pick at my bones.” He kissed away a tear that had escaped from the corner of her eyes. “Then the letters started to arrive. They came from all over the country. Guys who’d been in ’Nam and couldn’t get it out of their souls. Teachers, bankers, garbagemen, a lot of guys who couldn’t hold on to a job. Some of them are still having nightmares. Others said ’Nam was the best time of their lives, and they’d do it all over again. Guys told me about broken marriages and good marriages, about their kids. A few of the letters said I was ‘perpetuating the myth of the crazed Vietnam vet.’ But we weren’t crazed. We were just a bunch of kids who’d seen too much. As I read those letters, I finally understood I’d written something the whole country needs to see. I’m going to publish my book, Flower, and I’m going to include those letters.”

“Are you sure?”

“I’m not living in the shadows anymore. I want to walk in the sun. But I can’t do that without you.”

She put her arms around his shoulders and buried her face in his neck. “Do you have any idea how much I love you?”

“Enough to start talking about station wagons and a two-career marriage?”

“And kids,” she said without hesitation. “I want babies. Lots and lots of babies.”

He grinned the crooked-tooth grin that drove her crazy and slid his hand up under her nightgown. “Want to start now?” He didn’t wait for an answer but settled his mouth over hers. After a few moments, he drew back. “Flower?”


“I’m not enjoying this kiss.”

“S-sorry.” She tried to force her teeth to stop chattering, but it was no use. “I’m just s-so cold. I can see my breath in the air!”

He groaned and pulled back the covers. “Come on. You’ll have to hold the flashlight for me.”

With his parka draped over her satin gown and her feet encased in wool sweat socks, she followed him to the basement. While he knelt on the concrete to light the pilot, she stuck her free hand under his shirt. “Jake?”


“After the house heats up-”

“Hold that flashlight steady, will you? I almost have it.”

“After the house heats up, what would you think about-I mean, would you think it was silly if-”

“There, that’s got it.” He shook out the match and straightened up. “What were you saying?”


“You were saying something. Would I mind if-”

She swallowed. “Nothing. I forget.”

“Liar.” He slipped his hands inside the parka and around her waist so he could draw her against him. “Don’t you know there’s nothing I’d rather do?” His lips caught her earlobe, then traveled across her cheek until he could whisper against her mouth. “You’ll have to put your hair back up again with those pins. That was my favorite part.”

As it turned out, Jake found other parts he liked even better…

When it was over, the room was warm, and they were sated. They kicked away all the covers and dozed. Fleur finally stirred from the cozy comfort of his chest. “Next time I get to hold the gun,” she said as she eased back into her pillow.

He nipped her bare shoulder. “Nobody holds a gun on Bird Dog.”

“Is that so?” She cocked her finger and pointed it as his chest.

“Wow. That’s a fast draw you have there.”

“Fastest draw in the Big Apple.” She blew on her finger. “Seems like Bird Dog’s going to have to adjust his thinking.”

Jake rubbed his thumb against the corner of her mouth. “Seems like Bird Dog already has.”

He smiled, and she smiled back. Snow tapped at the windowpane. The furnace hissed. They gazed at each other with perfect trust.


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