Elusive Echoes
awareness like the incoming tide.
    Sean heaved a deep sigh. "I can feel your
tension from here." He shifted to the center of the bed. Then his
hand brushed over her arm, and he hooked her around the middle,
pulling her toward him. Warm breath fanned the back of her neck.
"Go to sleep, Mel," he whispered.
    Being held by him was infinitely worse . . .
and infinitely better. She willed herself not to move.
    His hand began a slow, lazy caress,
traveling the length of her arm from shoulder to wrist then back.
Little tremors began where he touched, flowed outward on little
electrical currents. She was torturing herself by not pulling out
of his embrace.
    "Relax," he whispered. "Nothing's going to
    And that was the problem. She didn't
want nothing to
happen. She sighed and concentrated on loosening muscles that were
winding up for the pitch. "Did you know when I was thirteen I
stopped thinking of you as my best friend?"
    He froze but only for a moment. Then his
hand began its spellbinding caress again, moving higher, toying
with the ends of her hair where they touched her shoulders.
    Mel's skin tingled. She forced herself to
keep talking when all she wanted to do was turn in his arms. "I
decided when the time was right I was going to take you as my lover
    His hand stopped again and this time, she
heard his breathing hitch.
    "Of course, I hardly had any idea what that
meant. I only knew it was special and personal. And I knew it would
be good with you because I really, really liked you. I always felt
safe with you. But you didn't seem to notice me like that."
    He was breathing again, but
raggedly. When he spoke, his voice was a little choked. "I noticed
you, Mel. There's never been a time I haven't noticed you. And for
the record, when you were thirteen, I not only noticed you, I
wanted you. And I did know what it meant, just as I knew it'd have to wait." He
shifted his hand higher and traced the outline of her ear as he
spoke. "We've always had a connection. But when I was fourteen . .
. man, it was intense." He chuckled. "And sometimes it was
downright painful." He drew a deep breath and blew it out, his
breath tickling the hairs on the back of her neck. Mel's heart rate
ramped up at the understanding that at the moment, not all of that
particular kind of pain was in the past. But his next words
reoriented her to the conversation. "And then you had to go away.
One day . . . you were just . . . gone."

Chapter Seven
    Mel had been Sean's best friend and nearly
constant companion since their first meeting. Her gentle comfort
when his mother died had also helped ease the pain and emptiness
he'd experienced when Ryan left home. But only one year after
Ryan's departure, Mel herself had been yanked from Sean's life.
Though his father had tried to fill in the gaps, Sean had been
inconsolable. It hadn't been a great time. In fact, it had been a
mighty confusing time. And very lonely.
    Mel had never spoken before about where
she'd gone, who she'd lived with. And they hadn't immediately taken
up their friendship again when she returned. She hadn't been the
Mel he'd grown up with. She'd come home a girl with a lot of
mileage and a bite to her personality. But even that bite hadn't
killed Sean's love for her. He'd simply waited her out. Was still
waiting her out in many ways.
    He stilled the restless brush of his fingers
on the soft skin just below her ear, but he couldn't bring himself
to break the contact. "Where did you go? Where did they take you,
    She brought her hand up and laid it over
his. Her palm was hot. She flexed and contracted her fingers
reflexively. Her breathing was shallow and quick and he knew
without feeling it that her heart rate had bumped up.
    "My whole life, I never knew Todd wasn't my
real father. Mama never told me, not even after he died."
    Sean remembered the accident that had
claimed Todd Mitchell's life. It had happened a few months after
Ryan left. Mitchell's pickup had skidded off the

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