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Unbridled by Diana Palmer (1)

ONE

It was two weeks until Christmas. Suna Wesley, whom her coworkers called Sunny, was standing by herself at the edge of the makeshift dance floor in the boardroom at the San Antonio Hal Marshall Memorial Children’s Hospital, watching as her colleagues in the hospital laughed and performed to the music on the loudspeakers. A disc jockey from a local radio station, related to one of the nurses, had been persuaded to provide commentary. There was plenty of punch and refreshments. Doctors and nurses, orderlies and dieticians, mingled around the buffet table. It was a holiday-themed party, the Saturday after Thanksgiving. One of the favorite staff doctors had taken a job back east, so it was mostly a going-away party.

Christmas decorations were draped around the room, marking the start of the holiday season. Holly and mistletoe and golden bells mingled with red bows. It made the holidays come to life in the red and green decor. But the whole holiday season was sad for Sunny. It brought back haunting memories of the season with her father and mother and little brother. Those days were long gone.

As she watched a nurse flirt with one of the interns, Sunny wished it was over. She’d been persuaded to stay after her shift and join in the fun. But it was the same as always. She was alone, because she was too shy to push herself into one of the many small groups and engage in conversation. She lived alone, stayed alone, was resigned to being alone for the rest of her life.

She pushed back her long, platinum blond hair and wished she were beautiful. Her hair was her one good quality. It was straight and pretty when she left it long, and it fell to her waist in back. She had big brown eyes that reflected her loneliness when she was alone and didn’t have to hide it from others.

It was sad that she had no partner. Her mother and father had loved to dance. Her father had taught her all the exotic Latin dances that at least three couples were mutilating on the dance floor. Her feet itched to try it. But she avoided men. It was useless to become involved with anyone, considering her limitations. No, better to stand all alone with a glass of punch that she hadn’t even touched and feel sorry for herself, decked out in a floral nurse’s tunic and droopy slacks, not a smidgeon of lipstick or powder on her soft features. Her brown eyes were dull with memories that hurt. Holidays were the worst...

“Hey, Ruiz, you going to show us how to do that samba?” somebody called to a tall man in a shepherd’s coat and wide-brimmed creamy felt hat with a feather decoration. It reminded Sunny that even in San Antonio, autumn was cold.

Her eyes went to the newcomer. Her heart skipped a beat just at the sight of him. He was gorgeous! Tall, olive-complexioned, elegant, with powerful long legs and a face that would have graced a magazine cover. He had a very masculine face, with a chiseled, sensuous mouth. Black eyes danced under a rakishly tilted cream-colored Stetson, white teeth flashed at the questioner.

“Hey, do I look like I got time to give you pilgrims dance lessons?” he called back in a deep voice just faintly accented. “I’m a working stiff!”

“Lies!” the physician called back. “Get over here and have some fun. You’re too serious!”

“If I wasn’t serious, you guys would have to pay people to let you operate on them,” he scoffed.

“One dance,” the physician dared. “Come on, you spineless coward!”

“Ah, now, that’s fighting words.” He chuckled, looking around for a victim. His eyes fell on Sunny’s long, beautiful hair and narrowed on her exquisite complexion.

No, she thought. Oh, no, no...!

While she was thinking it, he took her drink, put it on the table, caught her around the waist and riveted her to his tall, powerful body as he drew her onto the dance floor. He was very strong, and he looked taller in the shepherd’s coat he was wearing with jeans and boots. He even smelled nice.

“Hey, rubia,” he teased, using the Spanish word for a blonde female. “You dance with me, okay?”

“I...can’t...” she faltered and blushed.

“Not true. Everybody can dance. Some people just do it with more natural rhythm and grace than others!” He chuckled and pulled her closer as he made quick turns. He was incredible on the dance floor. But she was afraid of the effect he had on her, and it was a very public sort of dance. Everyone was looking at them and smiling, and she was painfully shy.

The contact was electric. She tingled all over from being so close to his long-legged, powerful body, so close and warm against her flowered top and pants, warming her body, making her feel things she’d never felt. She’d never been so close to a man in her adult life, and it shocked her, how much she liked it.

But she knew that she had no hope of sustaining a relationship with a man, and she was too honest to start something she couldn’t finish. The stranger appealed to her in every single way there was. She couldn’t afford to indulge this weakness. She froze, embarrassed at the physical ache that welled up in her so suddenly. She caught her breath, biting her lower lip. “Please,” she faltered, looking up at him with tragic dark brown eyes. “I don’t...dance well...” She tugged against his arms, frightened of sensations she’d never felt in her life as she was held far too close to a man she didn’t even know. She could barely force her eyes up to his handsome face as the contact made her stammer. He was the stuff of dreams, but not for a shy, innocent woman with too many secrets.

Something flashed in his black eyes, but the smile only faded a little. He let her go abruptly. “Forgive me,” he said softly, giving her a mock bow. “Obviously you prefer a paler dance partner, yes?”

He turned and walked off, throwing up a hand at the doctor. “Okay, I danced, now I’m going to work, you slacker!”

There was a gale of laughter, following him out the door.

Sunny went back to her place on the sidelines, embarrassed at being made conspicuous. She was even more embarrassed at the opinion he seemed to have formed, that she didn’t want to dance with him because he was Latino. She could have told him that was a misconception. He was the most gorgeous man she’d ever seen in her life, and when he’d put his arms around her, something inside her woke up and wept at the sense of loss she felt. Because she could never encourage a man, be intimate with a man. Not ever.

She drew in a long breath, ignored the glass of punch that he’d taken away from her and left it sitting on the table. She went toward the elevator, in a fog.

“You aren’t leaving already?” Merrie York exclaimed. “Sunny, the party is just starting!”

They worked together on the pediatric ward, on the night shift. Merrie was a wonderful nurse, patient and kind. She and her brother lived south of San Antonio on a huge ranch. They were absolutely loaded, but Stuart and Merrie both still worked.

“I have to go,” Sunny said, forcing a smile. “You know I’m no party animal, I’ll just put a damper on things.”

“You were dancing with Ruiz,” Merrie said with a wicked grin. “Isn’t he beautiful? You should have cut loose, girl. You can outdance anybody else here.”

“He’s so gorgeous,” she confessed. “It shocked me, a man like that wanting to dance with somebody as plain as me.”

Merrie grinned. “He is handsome, isn’t he? You wouldn’t believe the women who chase him. He just walks right by them. You should have kept dancing, Sunny,” she added.

“I don’t like dancing in front of people,” she faltered.

“I can’t remember the last time I saw Ruiz look twice at a woman, much less ask her to dance,” Merrie began.

“I feel terrible,” Sunny said huskily. “He thought I didn’t want to dance with him, because he was Hispanic. That wasn’t it at all. I didn’t believe someone like him, who could have had any woman in the room, would even want to dance with me. It...shocked me.”

“You undervalue yourself,” Merrie said softly. “You aren’t plain, Sunny. You’re unique, in so many ways.”

She smiled at the compliment. “Thanks.” She hesitated. “Merrie, that man I danced with...who is he?” Sunny asked helplessly, hungry for more information about the man who’d chosen her from a roomful of beautiful nurses to dance with.

“He’s... Oh, darn, I have to go, Motts is waving frantically. I promised him a dance, and he’s being stalked by Sylvia,” she said with mock horror. “She’s so nice. He’s afraid of her, so I’m his security blanket.”

“He’s afraid of her?” she asked, diverted.

“Sylvia wants to get married and have kids, and Motts wants to sample at least one woman of every name in the baby book,” Merrie said with a chuckle. “And no, he hasn’t sampled me. My brother would have him for lunch, and my sister-in-law would help put catsup on him.”

“You and your family,” Sunny laughed. “Your brother is really good-looking,” she added, because she’d seen Stuart York on rare occasions when he came to hospital functions with his wife, Ivy. Merrie and Stuart were rich beyond imagining, owning thousands of acres of ranch land in three states. They ran purebred cattle. Neither of them had to work for a living, but Merrie loved nursing and couldn’t contend with a life of leisure, any more than Stuart could sit at a desk.

Merrie looked very much like her only sibling; she had long, jet-black hair and pale, steely blue eyes. She didn’t really date anyone seriously, although she’d had a crush on a divorced doctor who’d just gone back to his wife. Like Sunny, Merrie didn’t really move with the times. She wasn’t into multiple relationships.

“My sister-in-law would totally agree, that my brother is gorgeous,” came the amused reply.

“Are they ever going to have kids?” Sunny wondered.

“I keep hoping. So far, they’re making the rounds of all the historic places on earth. I think they’re down to the last thousand now.” She grimaced as she glanced toward the refreshment table. “Got to run. Motts is turning purple. Don’t go,” she pleaded. “You stay too much by yourself.”

“I like my own company,” she said gently. “But thanks. See you. I’m off until Monday!”

“Lucky devil. I wish I was. Be careful going home.”

“I always am,” Sunny said, and shivered inwardly. She usually took cabs that she couldn’t afford, even though her apartment was only two blocks away. She was too afraid to walk through neighborhoods with gang activity. But sometimes money was really tight, and she had to make the perilous journey.

She’d lived in the neighborhood since she was thirteen. She’d shared it with her mother and little brother until the tragedy that left her alone. Now she hated the very sight of the gang that had taken over the once peaceful block of apartments, who were called Los Diablos Lobitos—the Little Devil Wolves. They ranged in age from early teens to early twenties and they terrified everyone, but especially Sunny. She had more reason than most to hate and fear them.

The cabdriver let her out at her front door. She paid him and he flashed her a smile as he drove off. She walked inside, unlocked her door and looked around her meager surroundings.

It was a ground-floor, one-bedroom apartment. No frills, no luxuries. There was a small stove that she used for cooking and a fridge that had some age on it but still functioned. Her twin bed had a bedspread that her mother had painstakingly crocheted, and of which Sunny was very fond. It was multicolored, beautiful. It brightened the dull room.

The back window bothered her, because it had a loose screen and she couldn’t lock it. She’d asked the maintenance man to fix it times without number, and he always promised. But somehow, he never seemed to get around to it. So far, nobody had tried to break in. Probably they knew she had nothing worth stealing.

She had a very small television that had been given to her, secondhand, by one of the other nurses. The apartment’s rent covered cable, so she had access to the local news and weather and a few programs that were free. She could never have afforded a package that offered prime movies and things. Not that she missed them. Her shift left her drained and ready for bed. She slept, if fitfully. She did have Wi-Fi, courtesy of the landlord, as well as all utilities. The apartments were occupied mostly by people in the services industry, predominantly medical personnel. Marcus Carrera might have been a mobster at one time, but he was a man with a huge heart. Sunny never failed to send him birthday cards and Christmas cards, always with thanks. He’d done a lot for her in the past. He was married to a very nice Jacobsville woman and they had a little son.

Lying in bed, in her soft white cotton gown, she thought about the gorgeous man who’d tugged her onto the dance floor at work. What had they called him, Ruiz? Was that his first name or last name, she wondered. Surely a man that handsome was married. He looked to be in his early thirties, another reason he was probably spoken for.

She wished she could have explained why she was nervous about dancing with him. She was sorry she’d given him the idea she didn’t like him because his skin was just a little darker than hers. She loved Latin men. Her favorite music was Latin, and she loved the dances her dad had taught her.

But she was shy around men she didn’t know. Sunny had only dated once in high school, and the date had been a disaster. She still shivered with misery, thinking about what had happened. The experience had taught her that it was better to be alone than to try her luck with a man. She knew that she was repulsive to them. Hadn’t her date told her so, graphically? It had been a painful experience. But perhaps it had been a good one. It taught her that she would be alone for the rest of her life, and that she must make the most of it.

She’d done her nurses’ training at the Hal Marshall Memorial Hospital, but when this new adjacent children’s hospital opened, she’d opted to apply there, along with a few nurses she already knew, like Merrie York. It was a wonderful place to work. People were friendly, even the administrator, and the rooms were like children’s rooms at home, stocked with toys and pictures on the wall and things that made the environment less traumatic for them while they recovered from illnesses and surgeries. Sunny loved her job. But she was lonely.

Several of her coworkers kept trying to set her up with men. She didn’t know what she was missing, one laughed, a girl who had two lovers. Sunny needed to get rid of her hang-ups and dive into the dating scene. Wasn’t she unhappy, going without sex?

Sunny had replied that she couldn’t very well miss something she’d never had, which caused the girl to give her a shocked, pitying look and get back to work. It wasn’t something she advertised, but the comment had disturbed her. She went to church, although fitfully. She only had a couple of Sundays off in a month. But she loved her congregation and was welcomed on the days she could participate in the services. Faith had carried her through many storms. She didn’t advertise that, though. It was better to never discuss religion or politics with strangers, her mother had once said. It was the best way in the world to start a fight. Sunny, who’d noticed some very hot arguments in the latest political climate, couldn’t help but agree.

* * *

She had an emergency a few days later. One of the children in her ward, a toddler, Bess, had been showing signs of abdominal distress. The little girl had suddenly started screaming, and Sunny had called for a doctor. The examination disclosed a blockage in the child’s colon, which led to immediate surgery.

It depressed Sunny, who’d become attached to Bess. She had bright yellow curls and big blue eyes, and Sunny spent a little more time with her than with the other children when she was on duty. Bess had only one parent, a mother who was working two jobs to support her four children. The father had just walked away from the big family he’d said he wanted, when he became involved with another woman. So Bess’s poor mother struggled just to feed them.

Bess had been in the hospital for a week already, confined for vague symptoms that didn’t seem to clear up and which had been difficult to diagnose until today. At least, after the surgery, the child would improve and could go home. It was a charity case, one of many the children’s hospital took on without argument. So many people still couldn’t afford even basic medical insurance, despite the government’s attempts to provide it to those most in need.

She worked her shift, making up reports, checking vitals, providing comfort and care to all her little patients. She was looking forward to seeing Bess out of surgery. She frowned as she looked at the clock. Surely the surgery was over by now? It had been several hours. She hadn’t noticed because she’d been so busy.

As she started to go off duty, she saw the surgeon who had performed the operation on Bess. She smiled as she asked him how the child was. The smile faded when she saw his expression. He looked devastated.

He explained, tight-lipped, that the child had gone into cardiac arrest during the surgery, and none of their efforts had been successful in bringing her back. They’d lost her due to an undiagnosed heart condition that nobody had even suspected she had.

He walked away, his expression betraying his sorrow. Surgeons sometimes went off by themselves for hours after they lost a patient, Sunny knew. They took it hard when they couldn’t save one.

Sunny gave her report to the next shift, tidied up her things and left the hospital in a daze. Bess was gone. Sweet little Bess, who’d always been smiling and happy. She fought tears. Nurses were taught not to get too close to their patients. It interfered with duty, one of the senior nurses had told her, because attachment led to grief when a patient was lost. But Sunny had never learned how to separate her heart from her job, and she mourned.

* * *

The apartment was lonely. It was her second Sunday off in two weeks, a lucky break, and she was off the next day as well. Nurses worked long shifts during a very long week before days off, but they were fulfilling ones. Usually. Not today.

She had plenty to do. There was laundry to sort, cabinets to clean out. She could vacuum. She could bake a pie. But none of those mundane tasks helped the hurt.

In the end, she did what she always did when she was depressed and unable to cope with life. She took a cab to the San Fernando Cathedral and went inside to light a candle for her late father, who had been Catholic.

She smiled sadly at the memory. He’d been driving a cattle truck for a rancher down near Jacobsville when a dog had run into the road and he’d swerved to avoid hitting it. The truck had overturned and killed him instantly.

Sunny and her mother, Sandra, and her little brother, Mark, had been devastated. Like now, it was the holiday season, which just amplified the loss as families gathered around Christmas trees to sing carols.

Her father, Ryan Wesley, had been a lifelong Catholic. Her mother had been a staunch Methodist. But the differences in faith hadn’t dulled the feeling her parents had for each other. It was truly a love match. They’d met in grammar school. They’d always known that they’d marry one day and have kids.

Sunny smiled at the memory. Her mother had loved to take out the family album and sit around the apartment with Sunny and Mark and tell them the stories that went with the wealth of photographs going back to Sandra’s own childhood, and Ryan’s. They’d been very close after the accident, so it had hurt terribly when Sunny lost her mother and brother in a tragedy that still had the power to bring tears to her eyes six years afterward.

She walked slowly to the front of the church and lit candles for all three of them. She looked up at the pulpit. She’d come with her father to Mass from time to time, just as she attended services with her mother at the local Methodist church. It had been faith that kept her going when she was ready to throw up her hands and just sit and give up. She truly believed that everything had a purpose, even tragedies that seemed without one.

She stood in front of the candles. She’d left her hair loose, since she wasn’t at work. It flowed down her back in a thick, pale curtain around the black dress and coat she was wearing off duty. Most women wore pantsuits when they attended services, but Sunny had stayed with her grandmother after school every day when Ryan and Sandra were working. After Mark came along, he stayed with her as well. Their grandmother had always worn dresses to church and funeral homes, and she instilled that custom in Sunny from childhood.

It had been a blow when the old lady fell suddenly to the floor with a stroke and nothing known to medical science could save her. She’d died in the Hal Marshall Medical Center, in fact, next door to the children’s hospital with the same name where Sunny worked. The woman had been a fixture in San Antonio society, the widow of one of the city’s best loved police officers who’d died on the job. Her funeral had been attended by dozens of people, and the flowers had covered the area around the pulpit. It had made her family proud, to see how much people loved and respected her.

In fact, Sunny’s family had been some of the first settlers in south Texas, immigrating from Georgia in the aftermath of the Civil War. The Wesleys were a founding family.

All those thoughts buzzed in her mind, all those memories tugged at her heart, while she watched the candles burn bright in the darkness of the great cathedral, the oldest in the city. It was founded in 1731 by Canary Islanders, although construction of the great edifice only began in 1749. It had an amazing history.

She heard the heavy front door open, but she didn’t turn. Many people who weren’t even Catholic came to light candles in memory of lost loved ones. It was rare for anyone to be alone for long in the church.

She heard a deep, melodic voice calling to a priest, and deep laughter following as the men conversed. Sunny couldn’t hear what they were talking about. Her mind was drifting into the past, into happier days, happier times, when the holidays had meant shopping for a special Christmas tree and cooking cakes and pies and turkey in the little house outside the city where her family had lived before her father’s death.

She said a silent prayer as she stood at the altar, her brown eyes sad and quiet.

Footsteps sounded just behind her, echoing in the cavernous depths of the church. She knew the sound of footwear. Those were boots. She smiled to herself. A cowboy, probably, stopping to light a candle for someone...

“A strange place to find you, rubia,” came a familiar laughing voice. It was oddly soft, almost affectionate.

She turned and looked up, her breath catching. It was the man in the shepherd’s coat, the gorgeous man who’d taken her onto the dance floor at the Christmas party.

“Oh,” she stammered, flushing. “Hello.”

He studied her for a moment before he replied. “Hello.” He glanced at the candles. “I come here every Christmas season to light them, for my people,” he said quietly. “You, too?”

She turned her attention back to the candles, nodding. “Yes. My mother and father. And my little brother,” she said softly.

He scowled. “All of them?”

“Yes,” she said quietly. “My whole family.” She forced a smile. “My father went here all his life. My mother was Methodist. They were both stubborn, so I went to services at both places when I was little. I learned the Mass in Spanish, because that’s how la Santa Misa is said here.”

“My father brought me here when I was a boy, too,” he replied. He didn’t add that he’d once brought his own son, Antonio, who was eleven. But now, the boy didn’t want any part of religion. He wasn’t keen on his father, either. Since the death of Ruiz’s wife, three years ago, the relationship between him and his son was difficult, to say the least.

“It wasn’t because you’re, well, because you’re Latin,” she stammered. “The dance, I mean. I...I...”

He looked down at her with an oddly affectionate expression. “I know. It was because you didn’t think such a gorgeous man would want to dance with somebody like you, is what you told one of the nurses,” he said outrageously.

Her face went scarlet. She turned, her only thought to escape, but he was in front of her, towering over her.

“No, don’t run away,” he said softly. “I’m not embarrassed, so why should you be?”

She looked up, her eyes wide and turbulent.

“And there’s nothing wrong with you,” he added in a deep, tender tone.

She bit her lip. “The room was full of pretty women...”

“They all look alike to me,” he said, suddenly serious. “Young men look at what’s on the outside. I look deeper.”

She could smell the cologne he wore. It was as attractive as he was. She kept her eyes down, nervous and uncertain.

“You work at a children’s hospital,” he said, by way of explanation.

“Yes. The night shift, on the pediatric ward.”

“That’s why I haven’t seen you before,” he mused. “I spend most of my time at the hospital in the emergency room, either there or at the general hospital next door.” His face hardened. “We see a lot of children injured by gangs and parents.”

That brought her eyes up, wide and questioning on his handsome face. “Gangs?” she blurted out.

He pursed his sensual lips and pulled back the shepherd’s coat over his broad chest to reveal a silver star.

“Oh,” she stammered. “You’re a Texas Ranger!”

“For six years,” he said, smiling. “Didn’t you notice the gun, when we danced?” he teased, nodding toward the .45 automatic in a holster on his wide, hand-tooled belt.

“Well, no,” she said. She was lost in his black eyes. They shimmered like onyx in the light of the candles.

“Who are you?” he asked gently.

“I’m Suna,” she said. “Suna Wesley. But I’m called Sunny.”

He smiled slowly. “Sunny. It suits you.”

She laughed self-consciously. “You’re Ruiz,” she said, recalling what one of the physicians had called him.

He nodded. “John Ruiz,” he said.

She studied his face, seeing the lines and hardness of it. It was a face that smiled through adversity. It had character as much as male beauty. “Your job must be hard sometimes.”

“Like yours,” he agreed. “You lost a patient on your ward yesterday.”

She fought tears. She managed to nod.

“I have a cousin who works in the hospital,” he said, not adding that his son spent a lot of afternoons after school in the cafeteria until his cousin-by-marriage got off work and could drive him down to Ruiz’s ranch in Jacobsville. The cousin, Rosa, lived in a boarding house in nearby Comanche Wells. She, like John, commuted to San Antonio to work. “She said that the whole nursing staff was in mourning. It’s sad to lose a child.”

She twisted her purse in her hands. “We’re supposed to stand apart from emotion on the job,” she said.

“Yeah. Me, too. But you get involved, when people are grieving. I’ve got a widow right now who’s hoping for an arrest in her case. Some wild-eyed fool shot her husband outside a convenience store for ten dollars and change. She’s got two little boys.” His face was grim. “I’ll find the man who did it,” he added quietly, his black eyes flashing. “And he’ll go up for a long time.”

“I hope you catch him.”

“Didn’t you hear?” he asked, his mood lightening. “We always get our man.”

She frowned. “I thought that was the Canadian Mounties.”

He shrugged. “We’re all on the same side of the law,” he said, his black eyes twinkling. “So we can borrow catchphrases from them.”

She laughed softly. “I guess so.”

There was a loud buzz. He grimaced and pulled his cell phone out of a leather holder on his belt. He noted the caller and answered it. “Ruiz,” he said, suddenly all business. “Yeah. When? Right now? Give me five minutes.” He paused and laughed. “I’ll make sure I hit all the lights green. No more tickets. Honest. Sure.” He hung up. “A new case. I gotta go. See you, rubia.”

She smiled shyly. Her heart felt lighter than air. “See you.”

He cocked his head. “Go home and find something to watch on TV. There’s a rerun of Scrooged,” he added, referring to a Bill Murray movie that had become something of a cult classic around the holidays.

She laughed. “I think I have it memorized already.”

“Me, too. It’s a great film.”

“Yes, it is.”

He searched her eyes slowly, watching her flush. She acted like a green girl. Why hadn’t he noticed that at the party? She was shy. It made him feel oddly protective. She drew him, when he hadn’t paid attention to women in years, not since he’d lost Maria. He wondered what it was about her that made him feel hungry. She wasn’t beautiful. She was small breasted and tall, almost elegant. But that hair, that gorgeous, beautiful, sexy hair, made her far more attractive than she realized.

“Well, see you,” he said, and forced himself to smile and walk away.

Before she could reply, he was headed out the door onto the street.

* * *

She thought about him when she got home and turned on the television. What a strange coincidence, running into him in a church unexpectedly. Someone had told him what she said about him. She flushed and then laughed, self-consciously. It had been a little embarrassing, but he was so uninhibited. It hadn’t bothered him at all. She ground her teeth at the memory of how he’d taken her shy withdrawal. It was probably just as well that he knew the truth, even if it made her squirm. She’d found him devastating. And she didn’t prefer men with a paler complexion, she mused. He was perfect. Absolutely perfect.

Was he married? She wanted to know more about him. But if she started asking questions, it would get back to him, just as her embarrassing disclosure had. Maybe someone who knew him would talk about him and she could eavesdrop. Or maybe, she thought, and her heart raced, she might see him again.

That possibility made her warm all over. He was strong and handsome and he made her feel things she’d never felt.

She hoped that he wasn’t married. But as she thought it, she withdrew mentally from any hope of romance. She couldn’t tell him why she spent her life alone, why she discouraged men from even asking her out.

She couldn’t tell him that she wasn’t what she seemed to be at all. The humiliation would be too much to bear.

No. Better to be alone than to have him back away from her. She could never tell him the truth. It broke her heart to realize that the attraction she felt had no future. She didn’t dare get involved with anyone.

She got ready for bed and thought again of little Bess and the tragedy that had sent her to the cathedral for comfort. Poor Bess. Her poor mother. Tears trailed down her cheeks as she closed her eyes and tried to sleep.

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