Dana couldn’t believe she’d been such a fool. Jason was nothing more than a con man, draining her financially--and a dominating abuser as well. How had she ever gotten into such a hopeless situation? With the question already on her mind, she ran into Kirk, the one man she measured every other by even though he'd deserted her ten years before. Realizing where her heart truly lay, Dana ended the relationship with Jason.
And then the nightmare began.
“Are you going up or down?” a deep, very masculine voice asked, interrupting her remembrances.
Dana jerked, and her face heated. Not only was she standing in the way, she was staring. Tall, his windbreaker stretched tight across broad shoulders. His torso tapered down into narrow hips to long jean-encased legs. He leaned past her to press the down button on the elevator call panel.
“Your hair turned into a lovely shade of brown,” she commented, admiring the dark, chestnut wavy locks level with her eyes, and then she mentally shook her head. Why did she do things like that?
He didn’t look at her as if she was slightly crazy, however, and his eyes hadn’t changed a bit. With a color somewhere between emerald and turquoise, they still mesmerized her. “I didn’t think you’d recognize me,” he said.
Dana studied his face until his brows pulled down. God, he was handsome, strong, muscular, and athletic as if he worked out or maybe worked hard.
“Or maybe you didn’t,” he commented.
Dana drew a deep breath to fortify herself. Kirk, it was Kirk, not just someone with a chance resemblance. “I always pictured how you’d look once you stopped growing up and started filling out. Fifty pounds?”
“Sixty and another inch up,” he corrected and added, “Must be the artist in you.”
Recovering from the shock of seeing him without any warning, Dana smiled. “Most people think it’s just because I’m weird.”
“I remember that being said.” He stepped into the space as the elevator opened and held the door with his back to keep it from closing too soon. “You never did say, up or down.”
“Crazy is the one I most remember.” Damn, he’d grown into a good looking man.
Kirk glanced at his watch, a rather expensive-looking one. “There’s a coffee shop off the lobby if you’re not in a hurry?”
She wasn’t, not really, but she hesitated. ”No,” she said slowly, “I’m not in a hurry.”
“But?” he asked and straightened a bit more.
Only for coffee, she told herself. “I just can’t stay long.” What happened ten years ago was ten years ago. This encounter was nothing more than a couple of old friends meeting again.
“You always were too kind for your own good,” he told her, his features settling into an expressionless mask. “You won’t hurt my feelings if you say no.”
Despite the mask, Dana sensed something she couldn’t see, an underlying anger in him. He stepped inside the elevator and did nothing when the door started to slide shut. Dana jumped to get inside before it closed.
“You always were too sensitive,” she told him. “It’s not because I don’t think you’re good enough to be seen with. That’s not why I hesitated.”
“Why then?” He punched the ground floor button. “Married?”
He gave her a one-sided smile. “I think that’s one of those either you are or you aren’t things.”
She had always loved that smile, although it had been a rare sight back then, unless they were together alone somewhere. “Not, but involved, living together, and he’s the jealous type.”
Not married, but Jason had certainly managed to tie her up as much as if they were. The lawyer she’d just visited had made the situation she’d gotten herself into all too clear. To top off Jason having her monthly annuity from her trust fund tied up, he was too jealous, too sneaky, too demanding, too much of just about everything. Dana had had all she was going to take of his tantrums. The fits and pouts he threw if she so much as talked with another man, along with his recently developed habit of coming home late at night, had put the topping on the break-up cake as far as she was concerned. All that was left was packing up and moving out. That, however, was the problem. She didn’t have anywhere to go, and it was her name on the lease. She was legally responsible for the apartment whether she lived there or not.
“Want to talk about it?”
She’d shown too much on her face. Never being an expert at hiding her feelings, she recalled Kirk had always been good at reading them—before he disappeared.
The stories of where Kirk had gone and why he’d suddenly left had run rampant for a few days. By graduation time, the gossip had worn down to an occasional comment. Everyone lost interest in where he had gone and why so abruptly, everyone but her. Afterward, she had never gone into the market where he’d worked without wondering
“You asked me the same thing once before,” she reminded, unable to hold his gaze. “As I recall I ended up blubbering on your shoulder for about half an hour.” Although what happened afterward was pretty damned special.
“Forty-five minutes, but who was counting?” he answered, while telling her he remembered as well as she did
The bell dinged, and he stepped forward as the door opened, blocking it in case it closed before she exited. He also adroitly changed the subject. “Did you ever make it to the school you wanted to go to?”
“No.” Dana walked by him and headed for the coffee shop.
Falling into step beside her, he asked, “What did you do instead?”
“Ran away from home, worked while I hid out for a couple of years until I saved enough money to go to France to study.”
Kirk never missed a step while she talked. He led her to a table, seated her, and signaled the waitress to bring them coffee.
“My parents found me once I applied for a passport, but by then I was too old for them to force me to go back.” She gave a terse laugh. “Not that they wanted me to after I humiliated them by throwing away a perfect marriage to become a bum. Dad still refuses to talk to me. Mom did eventually, but she died a couple of years ago.”
Her mother had left her a small trust fund to keep her going while she waited to be discovered as brilliant new talent. The same trust fund she had stupidly used as a guarantee for the lease payments. Jason swore he would be making the payments, she didn’t need to worry about them, but as an investment broker, he didn’t have a guaranteed monthly income to satisfy the landlord. Having the monthly payments automatically taken from her bank account was just a formality. He’d reimburse her each month. He would take care of her. She would be free to pursue her painting. Despite how good and simple it sounded, he was late with the first payment. After four months he was two behind. At six months, four.
Kirk studied her face while the waitress served them each a cup and shook his head when she asked if they’d be ordering anything else. Alone again, he said, “You never married Kevin, you escaped your suffocating and controlling parents, but you’re not much happier than you were then.”
Dana gave him a twisted smile. “As usual, you go straight for the jugular.”
He shrugged slightly. “I’m guessing it’s the same reason, different parties.”
“Only partially,” she answered with a shake of her head. Jason did want to control her and did tend to suffocate the same way her father had. However, she really didn’t want to talk about it, not to Kirk, not after the hopes she’d had for them and his betrayal. “What about you? Why did you leave like that? Where did you go?” She hoped she sounded casual when what she really wanted to ask was, Why did you desert me?