Katrina could barely concentrate on her work this morning. Each time her phone rang, she jumped. She didn't want to answer it; worried it would be Mr. Browning. Then she’d laugh at herself because he didn’t have her work number. Then she’d scare herself again by reasoning if he found out where she lived, it made sense he’d know where she worked. What would she say if he really did call her? What would he ask about? What if he found out about the preacher? What if this? What if that? What if? What? It was beginning to drive her crazy, all the questions tumbling together in her mind.
She looked at the file in her hands, barely knowing how it got there. Sighing, she tried to figure out what it was she needed to do with it. The phone on her desk buzzed and she reached reluctantly and picked up the receiver.
"Katrina, my own private enigma."
It was Mr. Browning. Katrina sucked in her breath and said nothing. She tried to steady her nerves; it was impossible. Her stomach felt like it had just dropped through the floor. The silence stretched forever.
Katrina's mouth was dry; she tried several times to swallow, before finally forcing the words from her throat.
"Uh, well, what?"
"Well, what have you to say for yourself this morning?"
"I…I'm not sure…what you mean."
"Oh?" The single word came out very clipped.
Katrina sighed. "Please, Mr. Browning,” she said, her voice so shaky she could hear it in her words. "If you need something, say so. If you don't, please don't call me anymore…at least, not at work."
“I thought I told you to call me Gavin. Why don’t you try it once? It won’t hurt you to say it.”
“But nothing. My name is Gavin. Use it.”
“All right, Mr….um, Gavin.”
His low chuckle twisted her stomach into tighter knots.
"We have some things to discuss, you and I, Katrina. When can you get away?"
"Not until five o'clock. Working girls don’t have the power to set their own hours, you know." Her try for a light note fell abysmally flat, Gavin’s long silence proved that.
"Five o'clock it is. Tonight, I'd like to take you out to dinner."
"I don't think so, but thanks, anyway."
"It's only fair, you know. After all, you fixed hot chocolate for me last night, so it’s my turn to treat you."
"I don't think it's necessary. In fact, why don't you just call me tonight and we'll discuss your questions over the phone?" she pleaded.
"No, thank you. It's too easy for you to hang up on me for one thing, and for another, I want to see you." Gavin paused. "I mean, I want to see your reaction to each question. That way, you tell me twice as much as you do with only words. Your face is an open book, my dear."
"Gavin, I don't think that it’s…uh, wise for us…I mean, I think it would be much better if you, uh, just call me. I…I promise you I won't hang up until you’re satisfied with the answers I have given. Okay?" She finished her words with a rush.
Gavin chuckled. "Oh, no you don't. You can't get off that easily. Nice try, though. If you don't trust yourself, that's the price you have to pay to get rid of me…and I know how much you want to do that! I'll be at your work at five. See you then."
"It’ll be silly for you to come here. I have my car to drive and Jerilynn is riding home with me as well…."
Katrina realized she was talking to a dead line.
"Blast it!" she swore, slamming the phone into its cradle, “Now he’s hung up on me!”
Now what was she going to do? Numbly, she looked at the file still in her hand. What was she supposed to be doing with it? She could tell it was going to be a long, rotten day. Blast the man, anyway!
Her mind had spent much of the day sprinting between half-formed thoughts in jumbled sequences, as if the motion and speed would stay the impending interview.
With twenty minutes to go she finally gave up even the pretense of work and cleared her desk. She picked up the phone and dialed Jerilynn’s extension. Perhaps they could get away a moment or two early, or at least right on the button of five. Gavin might be a few minutes late. They could make good their escape and she'd be free for a bit longer.
Katrina didn't even question why the thought didn't make her all that happy. One thing she did know was the emotional see-saw she had been riding all day was driving her insane.
Jerilynn answered her call and was ready to leave. Within minutes, the two women were walking out of the building, a scant ten minutes before the hour. Katrina congratulated herself on her luck and good planning in evading Gavin, at least for another round.
Katrina looked around and, not seeing Gavin, smiled as she hurried her friend to her small, black, battered car. They got in quickly and she started the motor.
"From what, or should I say from whom, are we running?" Amusement twinkled and danced in Jerilynn’s blue eyes as she looked speculatively at Katrina.
"Oh, nobody in particular," Katrina airily lied. She put the car in reverse to back out of the parking space, looking over her shoulder to watch for traffic behind her.
Jerilynn laughed gaily and said, "Oh, Katrina! What a fib! And, if I'm not mistaken, Mr. 'Nobody-In-Particular' has just arrived and caught you." She touched Katrina's shoulder and pointed to the tall man just stepping from a car parked almost directly in front of them.
Katrina jerked her head around to look where Jerilynn was pointing. It was Gavin.
"Blast it!" Katrina swore as she put the brake on and waited for him to come around to her window.
"Going somewhere, Katrina?" His face was smiling, but his eyes were hard as diamonds.
"Ah, yes." Nervously she licked her lips and then blushed as she saw his eyes watching her tongue. "I…I was just taking Jerilynn home. She rode with me this morning." She smiled only on the surface, her heart pounding in her chest so hard she feared it would leap out of her rib cage at any second.
"Fine. I'll follow you home, then we'll go ahead with our plans." He turned so quickly, she didn't have time to decline his offer yet again, this time in front of a witness.
"Blast it!" Once more, the words exploded from her mouth. "Blast it all to pieces!" She released the brake and finished backing out, deliberately not looking in his direction.
Jerilynn was shocked.
"Katrina, I don't believe I have ever heard you so upset before in my life! Do I dare ask why you are trying so hard to get away from such a magnificent hunk as that? Or do I just direct you to the nearest mental institution, knowing full well you must have lost your senses to turn down an offer…any offer…from him." The envy now dripping from her words was unmistakable.
"You can have him with my blessings; just get him out of my life." She took a deep breath and expelled it with force.
"Is he a woman-beater?" Envy turned to incredulousness. "I mean, what other reason could you possibly have for wanting to get rid of him? None that I would ever believe! Oh, Mama, you told me there'd be men who looked like that, but I didn't believe you, until now." She turned around in her seat to look at him in the car close behind.
"Jerilynn, you have no idea…he's…he's…" Katrina faltered to a halt.
"He's handsome, he's gorgeous, he's everything you could ask for in a man. He has to be rich…did you notice his clothes? And look at his car, would you? A Jaguar, for pity sakes! He's a perfect hunk of a man and you're out of your ever-loving mind to be trying to get away from him. How long have you known him? Where did you meet him? When are going to introduce me? Does he have a twin brother? It doesn’t even need to be a twin, just tell me there’s more like him at home. Have a heart, Katrina!" Jerilynn's voice pleaded with anguish.
“Knowing you, if I did introduce you, you’d be so tongue tied it would take a stick of dynamite to pry your lips open for more than three words in a row.”
"I know," Jerilynn mourned, "but I can dream, can't I?"
Katrina had to laugh. "Oh, Jerilynn, you're such a treasure. You don't even know what he's like."
"Well," her friend demanded, "what is he like?"
"Well, he's…he's…um…well, ah…I really don't know that myself, to tell the truth. I only met him last night."
Katrina remembered the feel of his lips on hers, the electricity that shot through her veins when he touched her…the musky male scent of him.
"Katrina, you're blushing positively purple! Tell me what's he like?" She ended on a squeaky note.
Katrina mentally sighed with relief as they pulled up to Jerilynn's apartment complex. "Well, here you are. Are you going to need a ride tomorrow?"
"What a cop-out! No fair! And no, I won't need a ride tomorrow, my mechanic is delivering my car in about an hour. How about lunch tomorrow? We can talk about Mr. Nobody-in-Particular." Jerilynn gestured over her shoulder at the Jag waiting patiently behind them. She opened the door, but hesitated, waiting for Katrina's answer.
"If I think of something to tell you, I certainly will. Now you better scoot; you’ve got to primp for your mechanic."
Jerilynn blushed. "You're exasperating, do you know that? I'll see you tomorrow for lunch, you can bet on that." Jerilynn stepped from Katrina’s car, bending to look in at her friend. "Have a great evening, you two." With a giggle, she straightened and shut the door. Katrina pulled away from the curb, wishing she dared just to keep on driving and not go home at all.
She knew it would be an exercise in futility, however. The more quickly she got this over with, the better it would be and the sooner she would be free of this very disturbing man. Somehow, though, that thought did not give her the comfort it should have.
Katrina was of two minds about Gavin. She wanted to be in public, so the kissing would not take place again. Much as she had enjoyed it, she didn't trust herself and her desires where he was concerned. The man filled her veins with liquid fire and it was difficult to think. At the same time, she did not want the questions being asked in a public place. She wasn’t sure of the answers she would have to give, nor how deeply the questions would cut. Unsure of her reactions, she didn't want to cry in public.
Sighing, Katrina parked in her driveway and got out of her old black car. She stood by the car's door and watched him coming toward her. The blood in her veins picked up speed. He was, without doubt, the sexiest man she had ever seen. Jerilynn was right; he was a hunk.
He spoke as he neared her. "Okay, Katrina. Be ready to leave for dinner in exactly,” he consulted his watch, "twelve minutes. Wear something classic, but not too fancy."
"Please, Gavin, do we have to go somewhere? Can't we just stay here tonight? I could answer all of your questions and then you could be on your way. You wouldn't have to be burdened with my presence any longer than necessary." She earnestly searched his face, trying to read it.
"Do you actually want to take the chance of being alone with me for several hours? Do you trust me? Or would it suit your purposes so you can make another play for me?"
She opened her mouth to give a biting retort.
"You now have only eleven minutes,” he said. “If you aren't ready, I'll come into your bedroom and personally help you to dress. That is a promise of fact, not a threat. I'd advise you to move. Fast."
Katrina took another precious second to stare hard at his face, his look fierce, unreadable.
She decided he wasn’t being flippant…he really meant it. She turned and fled. She prayed her door wouldn't give her trouble today. It didn't. Thank heaven for huge favors.
She ran inside, not bothering to close the door properly, as she knew he was right behind her. She even left her keys dangling in the lock. The mental image of his helping her to dress was more terrifying than the fear of not checking the house, or of leaving the door unbolted.
'Ten minutes left!' her mind shouted. 'Hurry, hurry, HURRY!'