Last night, sharing Adam’s bed had rekindled Mandy’s long-forgotten dreams. Today, her hopes evaporated as she watched him flirt with Sophie. She stood, smile fixed, spine stiff as he asked Sophie to have dinner with him. Ice shards formed in Mandy’s blood, stealing the heat from her body. Still stupid and naive then. Grow up and accept it’s over.
Thankfully, the lunchtime rush started in earnest. The next two hours passed in a blur of sandwich making, chatting with customers, and swiftly blinked-back tears. She’d bury her emotions inside rather than give her neighbors something new to gossip over. Later in the privacy of her room, she’d wallow in grief. When the last customer left, she cleaned the surfaces like a zombie.
Heart shattered, she gave the lunchroom a final check. Moving on, she started her housekeeping chores. Although she stripped the bed in the paying guests’ rooms, every movement took effort. She had no one else booked until the Valentine’s Ball, so she could clean their rooms more thoroughly when she had more energy.
Adam’s room next. Oh, God, I don’t think I can.
Just standing there set her legs trembling and her tears flowing. Closing the door behind her, she collapsed on the bed and hugged the pillow. It smelled of the ocean and tall cedar trees, a scent unique to Adam. It tore through her barriers, and she sobbed until she had no tears left.
Last night she’d been putty in Adam’s hands. The way he’d coaxed her body into an eager response had felt like a promise of forever. Her stupid dreams had suckered her in, and she’d acted like the whore Adam’s great-aunt had called her. Breathing deeply, she pulled his essence into her lungs. God, I’m pathetic. As far as Adam Montgomery’s concerned, I’m an easy lay—and he’s right.
Finally, eyes red-rimmed, she stripped the bed. When she gazed across at the dresser, she spotted the folded paper with her name on it. Hands shaking, she unfolded it, stared uncomprehendingly at the money. His few terse words felt like a slap in the face. Thank you for all you did last night.
She sat on the bare mattress and read it again. So angry she couldn’t think straight, she wanted to punch the flirty smile right off Adam’s lying mouth. How dare he pay her off like that? Determined that she’d cried her last tear over Adam Montgomery, she ran into her room and washed up. For Ben's sake, face facts, smile, and find a way to move forward.
Once her brain cleared, she stuffed the money in her jeans pocket. A quick phone call, and Babs agreed to pick up Ben from school when she collected Pete. Still pulsating with fury, Mandy marched around to Sean Mathews’s home and hammered on the door. Adam opened it, fresh from the shower. His close-cropped black curls lay in damp bristles against his scalp. A drop of water ran down his chest, and she struggled not to lean in and lick it. Barefoot and bare chested, wearing only his jeans, he looked…edible.
Part of her wanted to lean into his chest and let him hold her, but she still fumed over the way he’d paid her for last night’s pleasure. Her gaze fixed on the wound in his shoulder. Puckered and red, it looked as though it wanted to bleed rather than let the crisscross of butterfly stitches hold it shut. She wanted to check the exit wound too, but he lifted a sardonic eyebrow. “Yes?”
Damn him for being so beautiful and masculine, every inch the wounded warrior home from the wars. Refusing to fall deeper under his spell, she yanked the wad of bills from her pocket and flung it in his face. The bills fluttered to the floor at his feet. “Keep your stinking payoff, and keep away from me and Ben.”
Startled, he stepped back, but a smile flashed briefly over his lips. Worried she’d do something stupid like apologize, Mandy stalked out the garden and slammed the white-painted gate behind her.
Ignoring the money, Adam chased after her. “Mandy, wait. I didn’t mean what you think. I figured as a single mom, you could use the money.”
She stopped and turned like a dervish, her fists curled tight. He’d shamed her at their senior prom, but she refused to give him any power over her again. She blinked, surprised he’d come so close. He towered over and invaded her personal space.
Making no effort to lower her voice, she shoved at his chest. “Let’s see. You bully my son, then drag me into your bed without even a thought of a condom. Finally, you leave me an insulting note and two hundred dollars in cash. Well, keep your payoff, pal. Just tell me you haven’t got AIDS or something.”
She’d have stormed off, but he grabbed her wrist. “Wait. Last night, I should have used protection. Damn it, woman, I shouldn’t have slept with you at all. For the record, I’m HIV and everything else free. Besides, since you haven’t a faithful bone in your body, I should be asking you the same. No wonder your kid’s father walked away.”
Too furious to think straight, Mandy slapped his cheek. The unexpected blow made him stagger. With a toss of her red mane, Mandy stalked away. Head high, she marched through the small town’s streets, her proud stare a challenge to anyone who looked her way.
ADAM RUBBED HIS cheek and watched Mandy march off. A force of nature, she got under his skin like a firestorm, burning him whenever she came too close. Better if he kept his distance in the future. Maybe once he claimed his inheritance, he could buy the hotel out from under her.
He’d see that she never wanted for cash, but he needed her out of his life so he could move on and find a more suitable bride. Making a noise somewhere between a laugh and a disgusted snort, he realized he’d stayed away twelve years to avoid her. Maybe he knew the havoc seeing her would wreak on his heart. He hated how she’d messed up his life. From what Sean had told him, his sister had suffered for his absence. He should never have left Abigail to face their great-aunt’s cruel games alone.
Now he’d finally come home, it struck him as ironic how the one woman he never wanted to see again had moved back too. Sometimes karma crept up and slapped you around the head, or in his case, on the cheek. Mandy Devlin packed one hell of a wallop.
Earlier when he’d left her some cash, he’d meant to repay her for nursing him through the night. Since he’d inherited three-quarters of a million dollars, he could spare a couple hundred to help an old friend. Or maybe the guilt he tried to conceal colored his judgment. He wished he’d done things differently at their senior prom, but now he’d hurt her again.
Back in high school, he’d handled a bad situation with overly loud insults and angry accusations. Thinking back, he shouldn’t have stormed off the dance floor either. Making a scene and making Mandy the subject of gossip had been wrong, but his temper had gotten the better of him.
Rather than put on a show, he should have finished things in private. Only, thinking about Mandy screwing Kevin Jones had driven him temporarily insane. Always impetuous, he’d put on a public display that left Mandy humiliated and hurting. Crippled by her duplicity, he’d been too immature to face the consequences. Instead, he’d left on a hastily planned camping trip with Sean the next morning.
Adam hadn’t intended coming back ever. He’d done the idiot boy thing and shot his mouth off. “I’m giving up on women and medicine. I’m never setting foot in Westhorpe Ridge again. Don’t you roll your eyes at me, Sean Mathews. I’ll enlist in the infantry as soon as my vacation with my folks is over. That’ll show her.”
Deep down, he’d known he’d never do it. He’d cherished his dream of becoming a doctor for too long. Three weeks later, his great-aunt hired a local guide to track Adam and his family. Once the guide found them, he gave Adam the note his great-aunt sent. In it, she promised Mandy had already left town and that she’d never bother him again. He’d still taken the easy way out and decided to study in California not North Carolina.
Like the selfish teenage boy he’d been, he’d made no effort to find Mandy. Seeing her again would have hurt too much. Even though he’d been young, stupid, and heartbroken, nothing had given him the right to ruin Mandy’s reputation. Now he’d done it again.
Adam glanced around, hoping no one had seen his and Mandy’s argument, but he was out of luck. Kevin Jones leaned against a garden fence, his hands in his pockets, a smirk on his face. Adam winced when Jones crossed the road and sauntered toward him. “Not much has changed between you two. Looks like she fell for your charms second time around, but I’m not prepared to pick up your leavings this time.”
Adam wanted to punch him. He gritted his teeth and clenched his fists, exactly as he had at his senior prom. Back then Jones had boasted about fucking Mandy the instant Adam had left her alone in the gardens. He hadn’t believed a word until the scumbag produced her panties. In the face of the evidence, Adam had wanted to weep. That and punch Jones senseless.
Jones still had an annoying smirk on his face. “Such a shame you’ve alienated Mandy when you’re desperate for a bride. Not to worry. I’ve spent a couple of hours showing the managing director of Farlaise Developments the estate. He thinks it’s the ideal spot for his next five hundred new houses. Perhaps you shouldn’t have been so quick to piss off your whore. Paying her for a night in your bed? Can’t you get women any other way? Just wait until I tell the guys.”
Adam grabbed the man’s jacket and forced Jones onto his tiptoes. “Say one word about Mandy, and I’ll ram your teeth down your throat.”
When Adam released him, Jones staggered but kept his balance. Adam stared at him the way he would a cockroach. “You keep away from Montgomery Hall. Legally, it’s mine until next November, whether I marry or not. If I find you up there again, I’ll have you arrested for trespassing.”