Garrett(7)By: Anne Marie Winston
Those times had been among the best of her life. They'd been anonymous vacationers, not a weird artist from England and her illegitimate child.
She dashed the tears away, annoyed with herself. Those had been good times. There was no reason to cry over them.
But oh, how she missed her mother sometimes.
That thought brought back another memory, and she almost laughed aloud in the quiet morning silence of her new house. Her new half a house, she corrected herself. Which half of the dock was hers? The boat? The lake? As she grabbed a towel and went down the stairs on tiptoe so as not to wake her grumpy stepbrother—who probably would be even grouchier if she woke him at dawn—she had the whimsical thought that they ought to buy a huge roll of fluorescent orange tape so that they could mark off their boundaries. Because she was fairly sure she was going to have trouble remembering where she was and wasn't allowed to tread.
Except on Garrett's toes. There would be no avoiding that.
She stole out of the house, cussing the squeaking screen door. Oil for you later, buddy, she promised. The path from the cottage down to the lakeshore was steep and stony, covered with a slippery layer of pine needles.
Once on the tiny crescent of water-worn rocks that served as a beach, she stood for a moment, inhaling deeply and enjoying the first warmth of the sun on her face. It was going to be a beautiful day. Despite Garrett's unfriendliness, she knew she could be happy here.
She crossed the rocks and walked out onto the dock. Looking up and down the lake, she could see no one. Perfect! She slid her feet out of her sandals, then quickly removed the oversize T-shirt in which she'd slept. Beneath it, she wore nothing. The air was warm and fresh on her body and the sensation brought back more memories from her childhood. Since she didn't know how deep the water was, she used the ladder at the end of the dock to lower herself into the lake, shivering with cold at first.
It was invigorating, though, and she began to swim strongly, energetic strokes up and down past the dock, until she had warmed up again. Garrett hadn't said anything about the lake, whether there were strong currents or hidden rocks, so she stayed fairly close to the dock, although she was an excellent swimmer and probably could have swum to the far shore and back again. At least, she could after a little training. It had been a long time since she'd done any regular swimming.
Finally she was ready to get out of the water. The sky was growing lighter and she was afraid someone might come by if she lingered any longer. As she put her hands on the ladder rungs, she cast an intent, nervous glance up at the house, but nothing stirred. She was pretty sure Garrett was still sleeping. Quickly she climbed the ladder and reached for her towel, drying herself as best she could, then pulling her T-shirt over her head and pushing her arms into the sleeves before wrapping the towel around her. Her body was still wet and the fabric clung to her. Tomorrow, she'd have to wear a robe.
Oh, it was so wonderful here! The moment she'd walked into the cottage, she'd known she couldn't simply sell her half. She'd said that the other day solely to get under Garrett's hide, because it served him right for being so judgmental and hateful. But now...she didn't think she'd ever want to sell it. Not even to Robin's beloved stepson. Robin had left half of this beautiful retreat to her, his daughter, for a reason.
Her good mood was dampened as she thought of her father. She'd gone to the cemetery three times before this abrupt change of address, and though the fresh grave was mute testimony to the reality of her loss, she still couldn't believe he was gone. She was certain that if he'd lived longer, he'd have brought her up here. Thinking of him, trying to imagine him in this place made her eyes burn with the tears she didn't want to start shedding again. She'd barely met him and already she'd lost him. For a heart that had craved the love of a father throughout her whole life, it was a terrible blow. As she hurried up the path to the house, the lump that so quickly rose to her throat these days made it hard to swallow.
* * *
Garrett stood at the large plate glass window in the living room, his body quickening with elemental male interest. He still wasn't sure what had awakened him, but he was damn glad he hadn't succumbed to the urge to go back to sleep. He set his coffee cup down on the windowsill, shaking his head in disbelief and pure sensual appreciation.
There were some experiences every man ought to have before he died and a moment like this was one of them. It was no wonder Robin had been taken in by this temptress, he thought as he watched Ana prepare to emerge from the water. If he didn't know what women like her really were after, he might have been hoodwinked himself in similar circumstances.
The water receded as she steadily climbed the ladder down at the dock. She had an absolutely beautiful body, with high, plump breasts and a tiny, nipped-in waist that flared to smoothly rounded hips and long,slender thighs and legs. Everything, however, was scaled down to perfect proportion for a woman as petite as she was. She probably wasn't more than five foot two, if that. He really ought to look away. He felt uncomfortably like a voyeur...but there was no power in the world that could have torn his gaze away from her just then.
Besides, he reasoned, she'd gone swimming in the nude, right out in plain view in the lake. There could be a dozen people watching her right now, for all she knew. If she hadn't been splashing so much as she swam back and forth, he might never have noticed her in the first place. And if she'd worn a bathing suit like any normal woman, he'd never have stayed glued to the window like this.
He completely disregarded the fact that he'd swum nude in the very same place more times than he could count. He was a man.
He hastily moved away from the window as she came up the path in the clinging, wet T-shirt and large towel. She already thought he was pond scum; what would she think if she realized he'd been watching her?
Why should you care?
He didn't. Of course not. But he headed for the kitchen and began getting himself a bowl of cereal. She was nothing but an interloper, a minor inconvenience, a blip on the radar screen of his life. He knew what she'd said about not selling the place but he also knew she'd get tired of being hidden away up here in the woods real quick once the novelty wore off. And then, when he made her a handsome offer for her half as soon as the time was up, she'd take the money and get out of his life for good.
Sort of the way Kammy had vanished, except that he wasn't stupid enough to be in love with this woman and he wouldn't be devastated when she left. He snorted in disgust. He hadn't thought of Kammy in... well, one hell of a long time. She'd been nothing but another blip on the radar screen, he assured himself. Only difference was, he'd learned a lesson from her: some women would do anything for money.
The squeak of the door warned him that Ana was coming into the house, and he made a point of pouring milk onto his cereal and replacing the container in the refrigerator as she came into the kitchen.
"Good morning." Her voice sounded distinctly wary. "Have you been awake long?"
"Long enough." He deliberately didn't look at her. He already knew she was wearing the wet T-shirt with a large towel wrapped around her sarong-style over top of it, and that her wet hair was clipped atop her head. And he wasn't going to ask her any additional questions that would necessitate further conversation, like how the water was. The less contact he had with her, the better.
There was a short silence, as if she were trying to decipher his meaning. Then she said, "That cereal looks good." She turned to the cupboard and began looking through the dishes. "Where are the bowls?"
"Third cabinet on the left from the sink." He kept his voice cool and casual. "Did you pick up any groceries last night? I left the right side of the refrigerator for your food. Same with the shelves in the pantry. We won't be able to split up the dishes easily— there's only one of most of the cooking utensils—but if we each clean up as soon as we're done using them, we should be able to keep out of each other's way."
She set down a bowl and turned slowly to face him, her face a porcelain study in disbelief and something that looked suspiciously like...hurt? "Are you telling me not to eat your food?"
"Of course not," he said smoothly. "If you haven't laid in supplies yet, feel free to use some of mine. The store opens at ten, I believe."
"I assumed," she said in her precise little accent, "that we would share meals and food expenses. Wouldn't that be easier than cooking for one all the time?"
"Not for me," he said promptly. "I don't want to have to worry about stopping work to make dinner or coming to the table at a certain time. My hours aren't particularly regular."
She was still staring at him and there was a clear look of doubt mixed in with the shock. She knew he was lying, knew he simply didn't want to have anything to do with her. As he watched, her gaze dropped and she bit down on her lower lip. Turning back to the cupboard, she slowly replaced the bowl she'd removed and started out of the room.
"Hey," he said. "I told you to feel free to use my stuff until the store opens."
"Don't be silly." She didn't even stop. "I wouldn't dream of imposing like that."
He was not going to let the pathetic droop of those shoulders or the quaver in her rich, round tones arouse his sympathy, he lectured himself. She was a hell of an actress. She must have been, to fool Robin so completely. Still, he couldn't quiet the guilty feeling that made him sorry he'd chased her away. She hadn't even eaten any breakfast—no! That was no concern of his. "I'll make up a tentative schedule today," he called after her, "for us to share the common rooms and the light cleaning. You can look over it and we can make changes if something doesn't work for you."