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Cindra knew the instant she saw Curt. She still wanted him, no matter what he’d done. Follow Cindra’s struggles to not let him back into her life or heart, learn why Curt left her, and why he disappeared. She fights to salvage the life she’d made for herself, not to trust or succumb to the charms of a man changed too much, and to stay alive.
John knew it was illegal. Why else would a stranger provide an astronomical price to have his face rebuilt to look like Curtis Wellborn III? A fat fee awaited John as soon as he convinced the wife to sign divorce papers. The family wanted to ensure the white trash tramp would have no claim on the estate when Curt’s father died. Not as simple as it sounded when facing the sharp-witted Cindra, not a tramp, but a strong-willed woman who saved herself from a desperate situation when Curt deserted her five years before.
For Cindra, he looked, sounded, and felt like Curt, but something was off. A reversal of personality notwithstanding, he didn’t remember things he should. Furious when she discovered they weren’t divorced, he frustrated her by refusing to bring the new papers and proclaiming he still loved her. Not accepting his reasons for leaving or where he’d been, she believed him even less when he said she was in danger—until her car blew up.
#1 Chapter One
“Are you going to slam the door in my face?”
Cindra snapped her hanging jaw shut and jerked up straight. With her hand still on the door, she looked ready to do just that. “Not yet,” she murmured.
Nor was she going to invite him in. That was obvious. Curt—his name for the time being—didn’t expect more. He hadn’t even expected as much as he was getting. Curtis Wellborn the Third walked out on her and their three-year marriage five years ago. She had every reason to slam the door in a face carefully constructed with surgery to look like Curtis.
“You let your hair grow out,” he commented, knowing only because the provided pictures of her included one from five years ago as well as the present. The short, sophisticated style of then had altered to well past her shoulders in a long, wavy, slightly wild, dark-haired gypsy look. He knew instantly he had said the wrong thing.
Cindra’s slender body stiffened even more under the conservative business suit she wore, one at odds with the carefree look her hair and bare feet gave her.
Her voice morphed to icy. “It’s how I like it.”
“I wasn’t criticizing,” he told her in puzzlement.
“You never open your mouth that you aren’t criticizing.”
Curt, the name he had to get used to, tried again. “It’s pretty that way.”
“Pretty? That’s different.”
Hoping he’d received the opening he needed, he told her, “I’ve changed, Cindra.”
“If you’re here for the things you ordered me to keep for you, they’re gone, two weeks after you left.”
“I don’t even remember what it was. I just want to talk. Maybe we could pick some neutral place and have dinner.”
“Talk? I’m sure you said all you wanted to say the day you left, and you never gave me a chance to say anything. It wasn’t macho.”
“I was twenty-one years old and a long way from being as smart as I thought I was or afraid I wasn’t. I never had much of a role model, and—”
“Oh, please, not the it was all my daddy’s fault excuse.”
“It was my fault,” he stated, moving a step closer.
Cindra backed, and her hand tightened on the door with her arm tensing to give it a shove.
Curt retreated, careful not to crowd her. Looking like a deer posed to run, she obviously didn’t believe him and wasn’t going to, he feared, at least not soon. Prepared for distrust, he talked faster. “I was a punk with my priorities all screwed up. Let me take you to dinner and talk about it, really talk, you and me.”
The door shut. She didn’t slam it, but it was definite. Taking a rebuff as final wasn’t what he was getting paid to accomplish. He also knew it wasn’t wise to rush or push too hard. He tapped lightly on the leaded glass of the antique Victorian door, leaning a shoulder against it. She was just on the other side. He could see her shadow on the glass.
“Cindra,” he said softly, “I need to talk to you. I need to listen to you talk.”
Leaning her back against the door, she answered. “The world does not revolve around your needs, Curt. Go away.”
“I know you don’t trust me, but—”
“Not any farther than I could throw you. Go away.”
“I will now because I’ve upset you, but I’ll be back. I’m staying at the Ramada, room two-twelve.”
“You deliberately made me feel stupid to make yourself feel smarter,” she accused.
“Maybe,” he said and shrugged. “Probably. I wasn’t feeling too smart.” He used the shortened version of her name he heard on the tapes. “Hell, Cin, I couldn’t even keep a cleaning job. How much brains did that take?”
“What about the trust?” she asked coolly. “If you think I can understand it now.”
“I’m next in line to take over control of the company.”
With a sigh, she rolled her eyes. “Your father disinherited you.”
“From his personal assets, but he can’t cut me out of the company without, and probably not even then, a big court battle. My grandfather set it up, so the control stayed in the family, the title passing, like English nobility, from father to eldest son. If my father has no legitimate issue, it passes to his brother and then his eldest son.”
Cindra only made one comment. “You came back to claim your inheritance.”
Curt chewed the inside of his cheek and toyed with the plastic fork. If he didn’t say this right, he was going to lose her completely. “My father isn’t the only one involved, Cin, and he isn’t well.”
“You don’t think your uncle can do as good a job as you?”
He cringed at the sarcasm. “It’s my responsibility. I never intended not to take it.”
Her eyes narrowed. “Meaning what?”
Taking a deep breath, he hoped he got through this without her chasing him off. “Meaning I know I went about it all wrong, but I wanted you to be able to…” He followed her with his eyes as she moved back up to her feet in slow motion. “…fit into that life completely.”
“I know I didn’t do it right.” The tapes had shown him enough of the humiliating training Curtis had given her, and how it had been one of the things to hurt her the most. Curtis had to have a reason for the abuse if Curt was going to get anywhere with her. “I didn’t—”
“You were training me? Like-like some damned dog?”
“I didn’t want you to feel−”
“Damn you! Damn you! You destroyed every shred of self-confidence I had!”
“You got it back,” he said quickly, hands ready to go up to protect his face the closer she leaned.
“You made me feel worthless.”
“I wanted you with me, and I didn’t want you to feel out of place.”
She did swing then, shoving the table as she rushed around it at him. He blocked her arm, caught her wrist, and went to his feet all in one motion. The chair he sat in slammed back against the flimsy wall. Catching the other arm when she swung it, his head set off not one, but two of the wind chimes.
He didn’t blame her for wanting to beat Curtis to a pulp, but he didn’t know how the cheek implant would take getting hit. A third set of chimes clamored in a raucous discord when they staggered back, him twisting her arms behind her, holding her up against him. Chest to chest, he still talked to her.
“I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
She meant to hurt him. Curt let go, as much in surprise as the pain of her knee to his groin dropping him to one knee. Catching himself to keep from going face-first on the ground and withering in agony, he held to the wobbly table. Hunched over, he dragged the chair back and pushed up into it to indulge in self-pity while being grateful her aim was a little off. The pain from only one mashed nut was jerking him down and making him gasp.
“You deserved that!” she shouted, standing well back out of his reach.
Curt nodded, his breathing down to deep, slow inhales. Blowing out another deep puff, he moved his hands from his damaged privates. Curtis probably did deserve that kind of treatment and then some. At least she didn’t look pleased when he raised his head to look at her.
“Just don’t expect me to offer them up for justice again.” He leaned back, shifting uncomfortably. "Where did you learn to do that?”
“You taught me.”
“Stupid me,” he groaned.
“Why don’t you remember that?”
“Oh, Christ, Cin, give me a break. I’m not exactly at my best right now.” He leaned forward with a groan and exaggerated the pain. Why the hell did Curtis ever teach her to knee a man?
“Do you want an icepack?”
“No.” He pushed up on the table, nearly overturning it, and his face went right into a wind chime. Batting it away, he took an unsteady step forward. Cindra backed in a stumble to stay out of his reach. “I’m not the one that hit you,” he told her.
Her chin went up. “You shouldn’t have grabbed me.”
“That was self-defense.”
“So was kneeing you,” she shot back.
Curt hadn’t been able to stop his instant reaction to holding her and, damnit, had let her know by holding her too tight against him. He suspected feeling his arousal had a lot to do with her knee taking aim and asked in challenge, “Afraid of where it would have gone?”
“Go away, Curt.”
Had he been able to stand up straight, he might have challenged her more. Instead, he nodded and beat a practical retreat, saying, “Think about what I said.
“Cooled off enough to talk to me?”
“No,” Cindra answered and hung up.
He turned the cell phone off to avoid any more calls from Bolwin and eased himself back on the bed, unzipping his pants as he moved. The motel phone rang before he could get settled. Cindra didn’t give him time to even say hello.
“What kind of court thing?”
“Thought you didn’t want to talk to me.”
“I’m not. I’m asking a question.”
She hung up. He called her back. Not giving her a chance to even say hello and making things up as he went along, he told her, “They can attempt to break the trust. One way would be to prove I’m not competent to take control.”
“Since you haven’t had anything to do with the company for eight years, that shouldn’t be hard to do.”
“Incompetent, not inexperienced, and once I sobered up, I started studying finance. I’ll have a year to prove myself before they can even start anything.”
“You never told me any of that because?”
“I didn’t want you to worry about it.”
“You’re so considerate,” she drawled nastily.
“I said I didn’t handle it right.”
“So why are you telling me now?”
“First, so you’d know why I acted like such an ass, and second,” he took a deep breath and rushed out the next words, “as my wife you−”
“Ex-wife,” she corrected sharply.
Mentally holding his breath, he told her, “Wife. We were never divorced.”
“I signed all those nice papers your lawyer brought me.”
“I didn’t. They were never filed.” Dead silence came from the other end of the line. “Cin?”
“We are not divorced?” she asked in a whisper.
“I never signed them.” Partial truth, partial lie, Curtis disappeared before the lawyer could ever give them to him, something the family never knew until the old family retainer died. When Bolwin took over, he’d found the unsigned papers. “They weren’t my idea, Cin. That was the old man’s doing. I planned on coming back for you once I got settled somewhere.” He added meekness to his voice. “Things never worked out right until now.”
Cindra exploded. “For Christ’s sake, Curt, what if I’d gotten married again?”
“You’d have been a bigamist,” he quipped before saying seriously, “I hoped you never got involved with someone else for the same reason I haven’t.”
“You knew you weren’t divorced,” she retorted. “I didn’t.”
“I never stopped loving you, Cin.”
“Don’t, please, just don’t,” she moaned and hung up.
Curt started to put his plate on the table, remembered her earlier warning, and set it on the floor instead. That earned him another “I don’t believe it” look. Having caught on to what was causing them, he got braver. He put the clamps beside her, sat down with the plate in his lap, and asked, “Are you testing to see how much emasculation I’ll take before exploding?”
She gave him an over-the-shoulder glance before saying, “It sure beats being told you aren’t my servant if I ever asked you to do something.”
“I don’t think you want me to be a slave, either, any more than I want you to be.”
“Half of that is right.”
“I believe I’ve already mentioned I know I was an inconsiderate, immature punk,” he pointed out and then filled his mouth with coleslaw.
Cindra went silent. She filled the loose joints with glue and fit the long clamps to hold them tight while they dried. Curt ate and watched her. Her movements were fluid, graceful, and sure, even doing something unfeminine until she realized how closely he watched her.
“Stop staring at me.”
“I’m just watching how easily you do that.”
"Makes perfect.” He set the plate aside and wiped his hands. “Would I be pushing if I asked if you’d like to do some practicing when you get through with that?”
“Yes,” she told him without looking up.
“Is that the one way I haven’t changed that you like?”
“You made me feel like that was the only thing I was good for.”
Curt groaned. “Every time I show any desire for you, that’s what you’re going to think?”
She finished with the last clamp and stood up. “I’m going to clean up and go home. You may as well leave.”
“Not a chance in hell I could go home with you?”
“No,” she answered in a tone of voice telling him she meant what she said. “Do you need to call a cab?”
“No, I bought a pickup today, complete with a rifle rack and a spread-winged eagle mural in the back window and tinted side windows. I’m a country boy.”
“I told you—”
She ended in a cringe, and Curt shot up to his feet. The explosion sounded close, too close. Cindra ran, but Curt caught her before she could unlock and open the front door. “Call 911,” he ordered, pushing her toward her office.
“That’s my car!”
“That could blow up any minute.”
"It already blew up!” she cried, fighting to get the door open.
She screamed and nearly crawled up the front of him when the second explosion went off, shaking the windows and threatening to blow them out. Then she trembled.
Lost reviews but it did get a 5 star rating on Amazon.
wouldn't someone just love to read this and find out if he ever gets her to agree to--bet you thought i was going to say divorce--go to bed with him. Would a 4 flame rating give it away?