Sunday afternoon was spent grading papers, and Sunday evening was spent falling apart. Cordie had been melancholy all day, but she kept busy so that she wouldn’t have time to feel sorry for herself. Not wanting to talk to anyone in her present frame of mind, she let the phone calls go to voice mail and tried to focus on getting organized for school. She was fine, she told herself again and again. She was just feeling a little stressed, nothing more, and certainly nothing to worry about.
But she wasn’t fine. She had lost her dad, her only family, the one person who had loved her unconditionally, like a good parent should, and then she’d read that horrible letter from the woman who had to be talked into giving Cordie life and then couldn’t wait to be rid of her. You can have her. Those words were branded in her mind. And there were her father’s desperate pleas in his letters for the love of his life to come back to him. How could her father have loved someone like that?
It was getting late. Cordie collected her papers and books for the next day and slipped them into her satchel, then stood and stretched. The strain of the last few days had taken its toll. The tension in her muscles was working its way upward, and now her head was beginning to throb. Rubbing her temples, she climbed the stairs to her bedroom. A long hot shower was exactly what she needed.
She let the soothing water flow over her tight muscles, and by the time she stepped out of the shower, the tension had eased and her headache was gone. She washed and dried her hair, then put on a short silk nightgown. She was beginning to feel much better and was proud of herself because she hadn’t broken down and cried all evening. She’d done enough of that in the past few days.
She hadn’t been sleeping well lately and hoped tonight would be different. She was so tired now, she thought she might just fall asleep the second her head hit the pillow, but to be sure, she would go down to the kitchen and brew a cup of chamomile tea. Not bothering to put on her slippers, she picked up her silk robe and padded out into the hallway. She was tying the sash on her robe and didn’t notice the box of books she’d left sitting on the landing until she tripped into it, lost her balance, and went flying down the stairs. The box careened down the steps with her, and she landed on her backside with books all around her. It was the last straw to a miserable day. She leaned into the banister and burst into tears. She could have broken her neck, and no one would know until they found her decomposing body days later. Oh Lord, what a depressing thought. She was so caught up in her misery she didn’t hear the pounding on the door.
Aiden had just climbed the steps to her front door when he heard a commotion and a loud thud coming from inside. He called her name, but there wasn’t any response. About to break in, he realized he hadn’t tried the doorknob. He assumed it was locked, but it wasn’t. He rushed inside and was met with the sight of Cordie sobbing as she pushed books off her and tried to get up from the floor.
“Are you hurt?” His worry made him sound angry.
She wasn’t in the mood to be sociable. “Go away.”
“Are you hurt?” He repeated the question, though now his voice was calmer.
He rubbed the back of his neck while he studied her. He wasn’t sure what to do. It wasn’t like Cordelia to be difficult. She always had it together. But not tonight. He picked up the books and stacked them in the box in the corner of the foyer, then he turned back to her. She was still crying. He wanted to tell her to stop.
“Why are you crying?”
Her first inclination was to glare at him, but she was too weary to give it her best effort. She grabbed the banister and, wincing, pulled herself up.
He moved forward and, before she realized his intent, lifted her into his arms and carried her upstairs.
“Did you know your front door was unlocked? Anyone could have come in. You live alone, Cordelia. You should make certain your doors are always locked, and your alarm is always on,” he scolded as they ascended the steps.
“I don’t have an alarm.”
“You’re getting one,” he snapped.
Aiden’s mind raced with all the terrible things that could have happened to her, and he was furious about her cavalier attitude toward her safety. There was only one bedroom door open and he headed there. He could have put her down, but he didn’t. She weighed next to nothing in his arms. He sat on the side of the bed with her in his lap, his arms wrapped around her as he waited for her tears to stop flowing . Her head was down on his shoulder, and she was so soft cuddled against him. He had the sudden urge to get the hell away from her. He was reacting to her in a way he didn’t like.
She finally stopped crying and leaned back so she could look into his eyes. “Why are you here?”
“I got stuck…” He stopped before he hurt her feelings with the truth. “Regan was worried about you. You weren’t answering your phone,” he explained. “She knew I was out, so she called my cell and asked me to stop by and check on you, and it’s a damned good thing I did.”
“Why? As you can see, I’m perfectly fine,” she sniffed.
Aiden said, “You were sprawled at the bottom of your steps.”
“I was sitting, not sprawling,” she corrected.
“Wearing this flimsy see-through nightgown.”
“You can’t possibly see through this material.” She looked down and saw that her robe was open, exposing a fair amount of her breasts because of the gown’s low neckline. “Oh,” she said as she quickly pulled the robe closed. She glanced up and met Aiden’s eyes. He was looking at her in a way he’d never done before, as though he was seeing her for the very first time as a woman. A warm tingling sensation coursed through her body.
“Let go of me and go home. I’m fine, I promise. Tell Regan I’ll call her tomorrow, and thank you, Aiden, for taking time to check on me.”
Her arms were still around his neck. She leaned up and kissed him on his cheek then started to move away, but he didn’t loosen his hold. He continued to stare into her eyes as though he was searching for something inside her.
The strangest thing happened then. Maybe it was just curiosity to find out what it would feel like, or maybe it was just plain lust on her part. She kissed him again, this time on the lips. He didn’t pull away. He nudged her chin down and gently kissed her back. Then taking her face in his hands, he deepened the kiss, passion igniting when his tongue swept inside her mouth. He was so incredibly hot and demanding, overwhelming her. He made love to her with his mouth while he caressed her. His hand cupped her breast and he groaned.
Aiden was lost in the moment. It was only when he felt her tremble that he came to his senses. He pulled back, forcing her to let go of him, then lifted her off his lap and dropped her onto the bed.
Cordie was so flustered she didn’t know what to say or do. She could see he was upset. He walked to the door, turned back to her, and said, “I’ll lock up. You get some sleep.”
And he was gone.
She sat there a long while trying to make sense out of what had just happened. She’d ruined everything. She was embarrassed and mortified. How could things go back to the way they used to be? What must he think of her? She’d all but attacked the man. How could she ever face him again? Maybe she was overreacting. It had just been a few kisses—long, intense, unbelievably arousing kisses that all but turned her inside out—but they meant nothing.
After she calmed down she came up with a plan should she run into him anytime soon. She would behave like an adult. Yes, they had shared a few intimate moments, but it was still possible to go back to the way things used to be. He would ignore her, and she would do her best to ignore him.