Someone tapped lightly on her front door.

The sigh turned into a frown. It was Sunday night, and the two young women staying next door had invited her over for drinks. The two had seemed very friendly, but Melissa had begged off. Between her ranch chores and allowing for time to fly back to Chicago, she only had two more evenings to pull the article together. There wasn’t any time for socializing.

The knock came again.

With the light on, there was no sense in pretending she was asleep. Besides, they would have seen her through the window on their way up the stairs.

She pushed back from the table and crossed to the door.

“I’m sorry,” she began as she tugged it open. “But I really can’t-”

“Sorry to bother you,” came Jared’s voice.

His broad shoulders filled the doorway. His head was bare, and he still wore his business suit from the cemetery visit earlier. He wore a crisp, white shirt and a dark, red-striped tie. There was a frown on his face and worry in his eyes. “Jared.”

“I was out walking and I saw your light,” he apologized.

Even if she had been inclined to give up a chance to get more information, his expression would have melted the hardest heart. She knew he’d been up to the cemetery with his sister and brother this afternoon, and it had obviously been tough.

“How did it go?” she asked, stepping back to invite him in.

He shrugged as he walked inside. “About how I’d expected.” His voice was hollow. “We all miss Gramps.”

Melissa nodded, closing the door behind him. “This is probably the worst year,” she ventured.

“I suppose.” His gaze focused on something, and she realized he was staring at her laptop. “You travel with a computer?”

Panic spurred her forward. She closed the lid, hoping she’d saved recently. “It’s compact,” she answered. “Very light.”

“I guess. Did I interrupt-” he paused “-work?”

“I’m writing a letter,” she quickly improvised. “Can I offer you something? Coffee?” She gestured to the small living-room grouping, taking his attention away from the table and her computer. “Or there’s a bottle of wine…”

“I’m fine.” He eased down into the worn arm chair.

Melissa curled into one corner of the sofa, sitting at right angles to him. “How’s Stephanie doing?”

“She’s asleep now.”

Melissa nodded. She was starting to feel close to Stephanie. The woman was fun-loving and generous. She wasn’t exactly worldly wise, but she was perfectly intelligent and worked harder than anyone Melissa had ever met.

“I wish there was something I could do to help.”

Jared gazed at her without speaking, an indefinable expression on his face. It was guarded, yet intimate, aloof, yet intense.

“Tell me what you were writing,” he finally said.

Melissa could feel the blood drain from her face. The air suddenly left the room, and an oppressive heat wafted over her entire body.

“A letter,” she rasped.

“To who?” he asked.

“My brother,” she improvised, dreading what Jared must know, hoping against hope for a miracle. “Which one?”

She waited for his eyes to flare with anger, but they stayed frighteningly calm.

“Adam.” She swallowed. “I promised…I promised him…that I’d, uh, be careful.”

Jared nodded. “And have you? Been careful.”


He raked both hands through his short hair. “Oh, God, Melissa. I don’t want to do this.”

She jumped up from her chair, too nervous to sit still, sweat popping out of her pores. “Do what?”

“It’s so unfair to you.”

What was he talking about? What was he planning to do to her? She found herself inching toward the door, wondering if the women next door were still awake. Would they hear her if she screamed?

“I didn’t know where else to go.” His voice was suddenly thick with emotion.

The tone made Melissa pause. “What do you mean?”

Was he going to yell at her? Toss her out of the cottage? Throw her off the property?

She was starting to wish he’d just get it over with. Should she try to grab the laptop?

He shook his head. “Never mind.”

Never mind?

He came to his feet, and she struggled not to shrink away.

“Did you say something about wine?” he asked.

She gave herself a mental shake, struggling to clear her brain. “Melissa?”

“Are you angry with me?”

“Why would I be angry with you? I’m the one invading your privacy.” A beat went by. “And attempting to drink your wine.”

Tags: Barbara Dunlop Billionaire Romance