By: Anne Marie Winston

Nasty, bloody-minded pervert. There wasn't a word bad enough to describe him, with his sewage-for-brains stupid assumptions. If only she had some way to make him sorry. How she wished she were a man. How she wished she could—

She could! She had in her hands a wonderfully wicked way to pay him back for his rude, callous actions.

She actually rubbed her hands together, cackling with glee as she decided how best to flummox Mr. Gutter-mind Garret Holden. Obviously that property meant quite a bit to him. He'd shared special moments there with her father. She suffered a pang of conscience for a moment. Her father had loved Garrett. God knew why, but he had. Still...Garrett apparently hadn't loved or understood Robin as he should have or he never would have believed for a minute that his stepfather would have an affair with her.

And that reminder solidified her desire to pay him back. She nearly leaped for the phone and called him, but thank the Lord she came to her senses before she did. She could wait. She would wait, until he was forced to come to her.

He called her the next day, full of unctuous courtesy. It was amusing. She wondered what he really wanted to say, but when he asked if he could come by that evening, she merely agreed. "It'll have to be after ten, though," she said. "I'm working tonight and I won't be home until then."

"I didn't realize you had a job." His tone was stiff.

Oh, this was too good a chance to miss. "Of course. My schedule changes from week to week, so I never know whether I'm going to be working days or nights or both."

There had been an ominous silence on the other end of the line and she'd had to bite her lip to keep from laughing at his expense. Oh, she couldn't wait to tell him who she was. He was going to feel so foolish and she would make certain she was there to see the moment.

But aloud, all she said was, "So I'll see you around ten, then?"

"Ten it is." And he hung up without even a farewell.

That evening, luck was with her and she didn't have any late tables, so she was home shortly before ten. She took a quick shower to rid herself of the food odors, dried her hair enough to scrunch wild curls around her face, and sprayed herself liberally with her favorite scent, an expensive one she wore rarely but figured was appropriate for this evening. Then she dressed in a white silk blouse cut in a discreet vee, a slim, short black skirt, and a pair of high-heeled pumps that made her legs look a mile long. Battle gear. She supposed she might look like an expensive hooker, if that's what one was predisposed to think. The doorbell rang just as she was walking down her narrow staircase.

"Good evening," she said as she opened the door. "Please come in."

"Your home needs some work," Garrett said without even greeting her.

"Yes. It's getting rather shabby," she agreed.

"The porch needs to be repaired," he pointed out, "and the whole place could stand to be painted."

"I'm sure it could." She smiled brightly at him. "Would you like to sit down?"

He came in and took the exact same seat he'd taken before on her couch. "You could do a lot to this place with the money I'll pay you for the cabin."

"I'm sure I could," she agreed. "If I owned it."

She'd managed to surprise him and it showed. "You don't? I just assumed..."

"You're quite good at that," she said pleasantly.

She watched with gleeful eyes as he fought back a snarl. Finally he said, "If you don't own it, who does?"

"The landlord." She waited a moment until he looked ready to explode. Then she smiled innocently. "We moved here from England when I was ten and my mother bought the place. It was a reasonably nice little neighborhood then." Her smile faded. "Mother died three years ago and I needed money. I didn't care to stay here permanently. The area's getting seedier and seedier. So I sold it with a provision that I be able to rent it for up to five years." But she didn't tell him about her mother and Robin. She might never. He didn't deserve to know.

"All right," he said impatiently. "So you don't have to take care of a property. That should make the money even more appealing. You can bank it. Travel."

"Go back to school," she suggested. His eyebrows rose. "If that interests you." He paused. "Does it?"

"No," she said serenely. "I don't need additional education to further my life plan."

"I just bet you don't," he murmured.

Now that she knew what he was thinking, cryptic comments like that made sense. He'd been insulting her steadily and until recently, she hadn't even known it. She felt her blood begin to boil again and she pushed the anger away, concentrating instead on this chance to rattle him. "So when do we leave?" she asked.


"When do we leave?" she repeated as if he were a bit slow. "For Eden Cottage. What a pretty name. I can't wait to see it. It must have been a very special place for Robin to consider it Eden."

"We aren't going anywhere," he said. "I've already dropped off the will at another legal firm. I expect them to be able to get us out of that insane clause. Then I'll buy you out and we'll be done with it."

"Buy me out?" She widened her eyes. "Oh, did I forget to mention my change of plans?"

He regarded her with distrust. "Apparently. What change?"

She cleared her throat, enjoying the moment. "I've decided not to sell my half. It was special to Robin so I've decided to keep it."

"I thought you needed money." His voice was tight, as if someone were squeezing his neck hard enough to affect his vocal cords.

"I do, but not that desperately," she said. "If we go to Maine for a month, it's essentially an all-expenses-paid vacation for me. We can chat at the end of that time if I've changed my mind." She stood. "I hate to throw you out, but I've had an exhausting day."

He stood, too, but instead of heading for the door he stalked across the room in her direction. "If I can get that clause changed, you'll have half a cabin and no free ride. And I'll expect you to pay half of all taxes and expenses related to the cabin's upkeep."

"Even if you get that clause changed," she said blithely, "I probably still will go. Maybe I'll even move there permanently. Owning half a cabin in Maine has to be less expensive than renting in Baltimore."

He practically was foaming at the mouth, he was that angry. She watched his hands clench and unclench at his sides, fascinated by his battle for control. "We're not done discussing this," he warned her before he stomped out.

He heard from the other lawyer late the next afternoon and when he ended the conversation, it was all he could do not to throw the phone across the room. His temper was short these days and he knew at least part of the reason why. He hadn't slept well since Robin had died. Though he'd managed not to wallow in grief during the day, he'd had vivid dreams of his stepfather every night, dreams that always ended with Robin closing a door in his face or disappearing around a corner.

It didn't take a psychologist to figure out that he was trying to work through his sense of loss at Robin's unexpected death. Still, between the lack of rest and this business with that stupid will Robin had made... Once again he went back over the will's specific provisions. Every lawyer who had seen the language of the will had been of the same opinion: unless there was some clear question about Robin's sanity at the time he had it drawn up, it was perfectly legal, perfectly enforceable.

Since Robin unquestionably had been quite sane, it looked as if there was no way to win a challenge to his wishes.

He sighed, the anger draining from him. How in hell was he going to stand thirty-one days in Maine with her? He couldn't imagine being cooped up in the small cottage with Ana Birch for more than four weeks. Still, he supposed there was no use in prolonging the inevitable. He'd survive it.

When he called, Ana answered her phone. "Hello?"

"I've had an answer from the other lawyer about Robin's will." He didn't bother to identify himself or to wait for her to speak. He hated eating crow but he supposed he'd had it coming. "It can't be changed. So we're going to be stuck with each other."

"When do we leave?" She didn't sound smug or superior, just interested.

"I'm leaving tomorrow morning. I can't speak for you." Surely she didn't think he'd spend sixteen hours in a car with her. "But the sooner you get up there, the faster this farce will be over."

He hung up and immediately called his housekeeper to instruct her to start packing. Now that he'd made up his mind, he wanted to get to the cottage as fast as possible. Before Ana, that was for sure. He had a sneaking suspicion that if she arrived first, she might just take his favorite bedroom out of spite.

The following evening, he pulled off the small country road and took the long central lane back to the smaller, rougher track that wound another half-mile along the lakeshore to Eden Cottage. There was a porch light on, waiting to greet him through the dusk, and he reminded himself to give the caretakers a bonus next month. The old man and his wife who looked after the place had cleaned it and brought in a few groceries earlier as he'd asked when he'd called to tell them he was coming.

He'd left at dawn and driven with only the most necessary stops the whole day. He was glad it was summertime, still light outside. He got out of the car and stretched, looking down the steep hillside at the flashes of silvery water revealed through the white-trunked birches. He'd pushed himself for a reason. Much later and he'd have had to wait until morning to see this view.

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