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Less of a Stranger, Page 2

Nora Roberts

  “It is him,” she whispered, hardly believing her eyes as she watched Katch approach her kitchen door.

  “I thought it might be,” Pop said mildly.

  “Of all the nerve,” she muttered darkly. “Of all the incredible nerve!”

  Chapter Two

  Before her grandfather could comment, Megan took the few strides necessary to bring her to the kitchen door. She swung it open just as Katch stepped up on the stoop. There was a flicker, only a flicker, of surprise in the gray eyes.

  “You have a nerve,” she said coolly.

  “So I’ve been told,” he agreed easily. “You’re prettier than you were an hour ago.” He ran a finger down her cheek. “There’s a bit of rose under the honey now. Very becoming.” He traced the line of her chin before dropping his hand. “Do you live here?”

  “You know very well I do,” she retorted. “You followed me.”

  Katch grinned. “Sorry to disappoint you, Meg. Finding you here’s just a bonus. I’m looking for Timothy Miller. Friend of yours?”

  “He’s my grandfather.” She moved, almost imperceptibly, positioning herself between Katch and the doorway. “What do you want with him?”

  Katch recognized the protective move, but before he could comment, Pop spoke from behind her.

  “Why don’t you let the man in, Megan? He can tell me himself.”

  “I’m basically human, Meg,” Katch said quietly. The tone of his voice had her looking at him more closely.

  She glanced briefly over her shoulder, then turned back to Katch. The look she gave him was a warning. Don’t do anything to upset him.

  She noticed something in his eyes she hadn’t expected—gentleness. It was more disconcerting than his earlier arrogance. Megan backed into the kitchen, holding open the door in silent invitation.

  Katch smiled at her, casually brushing a strand of hair from her cheek as he walked by and into the kitchen. Megan stood for a moment, wondering why she should be so moved by a stranger’s touch.

  “Mr. Miller?” She heard the unaffected friendliness in Katch’s voice and glanced over as he held out a hand to her grandfather. “I’m David Katcherton.”

  Pop nodded in approval. “You’re the fellow who called me a couple of hours ago.” He shot a look past Katch’s shoulder to Megan. “I see you’ve already met my granddaughter.”

  His eyes smiled in response. “Yes. Charming.”

  Pop chuckled and moved toward the stove. “I was just about to make some more tea. How about a cup?”

  Megan noticed the faint lift of his brow. Tea, she thought, was probably not his first choice.

  “That’d be nice. Thanks.” He walked to the table and sat, Megan decided, as if his acquaintance were long-standing and personal. Half reluctant, half defiant, she sat next to him. Her eyes asked him questions behind Pop’s back.

  “Did I tell you before that you have fabulous eyes?” he murmured. Without waiting for her answer, he turned his attention to Pop’s tackle box. “You’ve got some great lures here,” he observed to Pop, picking up a bone squid, then a wood plug painted to simulate a small frog. “Do you make any of your own?”

  “That’s half the sport,” Pop stated, bringing a fresh cup to the table. “Have you done much fishing?”

  “Here and there. I’d guess you’d know the best spots along the Grand Strand.”

  “A few of them,” Pop said modestly.

  Megan scowled into her tea. Once the subject of fishing had been brought up, Pop could go on for hours. And hours.

  “I thought I’d do some surf casting while I’m here,” Katch mentioned offhandedly. Megan was surprised to catch a shrewdly measuring expression in his eyes.

  “Well now”—Pop warmed to the theme—“I might just be able to show you a spot or two. Do you have your own gear?”

  “Not with me, no.”

  Pop brushed this off as inconsequential. “Where are you from, Mr. Katcherton?”

  “Katch,” he corrected, leaning back in his chair. “California originally.”

  That, Megan decided, explained the beachboy look. She drank her cooling tea with a casual air while studying him over the rim of her mug.

  “You’re a long way from home,” Pop commented. He shifted comfortably, then brought out a pipe he saved for interesting conversations. “Do you plan to be in Myrtle Beach long?”

  “Depends. I’d like to talk with you about your amusement park.”

  Pop puffed rapidly on his pipe while holding a match to the bowl. The tobacco caught, sending out cherry-scented smoke. “So you said on the phone. Funny, Megan and I were just talking about hiring on help for the summer. Only about six weeks before the season starts.” He puffed and let the smoke waft lazily. “Less than three until Easter. Ever worked rides or a booth?”

  “No.” Katch sampled his tea.

  “Well . . .” Pop shrugged his inexperience away. “It’s simple enough to learn. You look smart.” Again, Megan caught the flash of Katch’s grin. She set down her cup.

  “We can’t pay more than minimum to a novice,” she said dampeningly.

  He made her nervous, she was forced to admit. With any luck, she could discourage him from Joyland so that he’d try his luck elsewhere. But something nagged at her. He didn’t look the type to take a job running a roller coaster or hawking a pitch-and-toss for a summer. There were hints of authority in his face, touches of casual power in his stance. Yet there was something not altogether respectable in his raffish charm.

  He met her stare with a complete lack of self-consciousness. “That seems reasonable. Do you work in the park, Meg?”

  She bit back a retort to his familiarity. “Often,” she said succinctly.

  “Megan’s got a good business head,” Pop interjected. “She keeps me straight.”

  “Funny,” Katch said speculatively. “Somehow I thought you might be a model. You’ve the face for it.” There was no flirtatiousness in his tone.

  “Megan’s an artist,” Pop said, puffing contentedly at his pipe.


  She watched Katch’s eyes narrow and focus on her. Uncomfortable, she shifted in her chair. “We seem to be drifting away from the subject,” she said crisply. “If you’ve come about a job—”


  “But . . . didn’t you say—”

  “I don’t think so,” he cut her off again and added a smile. He turned to Pop now, and Megan recognized a subtle change in his manner. “I don’t want a job in your park, Mr. Miller. I want to buy it.”

  Both men were intent on each other. Pop was surprised, unmistakably so, but there was also a look of consideration in his eyes. Neither of them noticed Megan. She stared at Katch, her face open and young, and just a little frightened. She wanted to laugh and say he was making a foolish joke, but she knew better. Katch said exactly what he meant.

  She’d recognized the understated authority and power beneath the glib exterior. This was business, pure and simple. She could see it on his face. There was a flutter of panic in her stomach as she looked at her grandfather.

  “Pop?” Her voice was very small, and he made no sign that he heard her.

  “You’re a surprise,” the old man said eventually. Then he began to puff on his pipe again. “Why my park?”

  “I’ve done some research on the amusements here.” Katch shrugged off the details. “I like yours.”

  Pop sighed and blew smoke at the ceiling. “I can’t say I’m interested in selling out, son. A man gets used to a certain way of life.”

  “With the offer I’m prepared to make, you might find it easy to get used to another.”

  Pop gave a quiet laugh. “How old are you, Katch?”


  “That’s just about how long I’ve been in this business. How much do you know about running a park?”

  “Not as much as you do.” Katch grinned and leaned back again. “But I could learn fast with the right teacher.”

  Megan saw t
hat her grandfather was studying Katch carefully. She felt excluded from the conversation and resented it. Her grandfather was capable of doing this very subtly. She recognized that David Katcherton had the same talent. Megan sat silently; natural courtesy forbade her interrupting private conversation.

  “Why do you want to own an amusement park?” Pop asked suddenly. Megan could tell he was interested in David Katcherton. A warning bell began to ring in her head. The last thing she wanted was for her grandfather to become too involved with Katch. He was trouble; Megan was sure of it.

  “It’s good business,” Katch answered Pop’s question after a moment. “And fun.” He smiled. “I like things that put fun into life.”

  He knows how to say the right thing, Megan acknowledged grudgingly, noting Pop’s expression.

  “I’d appreciate it if you’d think about it, Mr. Miller,” Katch continued. “We could talk about it again in a few days.”

  And how to advance and retreat, she thought.

  “I can’t refuse to think about it,” Pop agreed, but shook his head. “Still, you might take another look around. Megan and I’ve run Joyland for a good many years. It’s home to us.” He looked to his granddaughter teasingly. “Weren’t you two going out to dinner?”

  “No!” She flashed him a scowl.

  “Exactly what I had in mind,” Katch said smoothly. “Come on, Meg. I’ll buy you a hamburger.” As he rose, he took her hand, pulling her to her feet. Feeling her temper rise with her, Megan attempted to control it.

  “I can’t tell you how I hate to refuse such a charming invitation—” she began.

  “Then don’t,” Katch cut her off before turning to Pop. “Would you like to join us?”

  Pop chuckled and motioned them away with the back of his hand. “Go on. I’ve got to get my gear together for the morning.”

  “Want company?”

  Pop studied Katch over the bowl of his pipe. “I’m leaving at five thirty,” he said after a moment. “I have extra gear.”

  “I’ll be here.”

  Megan was so astonished that she allowed Katch to lead her outside without making another protest. Pop never invited anyone along on his fishing mornings. They were his relaxation, and he enjoyed his solitude too much to share it.

  “He never takes anyone with him,” she murmured, thinking aloud.

  “Then I’m flattered.”

  Megan noticed that Katch still had her hand, his fingers comfortably laced with hers.

  “I’m not going out with you,” she said positively and stopped walking. “You might be able to charm Pop into taking you fishing, but—”

  “So you think I’m charming?” His smile was audacious as he took her other hand.

  “Not in the least,” she said firmly, repressing an answering smile.

  “Why won’t you have dinner with me?”

  “Because,” she said, meeting his eyes directly, “I don’t like you.”

  His smile broadened. “I’d like the chance to change your mind.”

  “You couldn’t.” Megan started to draw her hands away, but he tightened his fingers.

  “Wanna bet?” Again, she quashed the desire to smile. “If I change your mind, you’ll go to the park with me Friday night.”

  “And if I don’t change my mind?” she asked. “What then?”

  “I won’t bother you anymore.” He grinned, as persuasive, she noted, as he was confident.

  Her brow lifted in speculation. It might, she reflected, it just might be worth it.

  “All you have to do is have dinner with me tonight,” Katch continued, watching Megan’s face. “Just a couple of hours.”

  “All right,” she agreed impulsively. “It’s a deal.” She wriggled her fingers, but he didn’t release them. “We could shake on it,” she said, “but you still have my hands.”

  “So I do,” he agreed. “We’ll seal it my way, then.”

  With a quick tug, he had her colliding against his chest. She felt a strength there that wasn’t apparent in the lean, somewhat lanky frame. Before she could express annoyance, his mouth had taken hers.

  He was skillful and thorough. She never knew whether she had parted her lips instinctively or if he had urged her to do so with the gently probing tip of his tongue.

  From the instant of contact, Megan’s mind had emptied, to be filled only with thoughts she couldn’t center on. Her body dominated, taking command in simple surrender. She was melted against him, aware of his chest hard against her breasts . . . aware of his mouth quietly savaging hers. There was nothing else. She found there was nothing to hold on to. No anchor to keep her from veering off into wild water. Megan gave a small, protesting moan and drew away.

  His eyes were darker than she’d thought, and too smoky to read clearly. Why had she thought them so decipherable? Why had she thought him so manageable? Nothing was as she had thought it had been minutes before. Her breath trembled as she fought to collect herself.

  “You’re very warm,” Katch said softly. “It’s a pity you struggle so hard to be remote.”

  “I’m not. I don’t . . .” Megan shook her head, wishing desperately for her heartbeat to slow.

  “You are,” he corrected, “and you do.” Katch gave her hands a companionable squeeze before releasing one of them. The other he kept snugly in his as he turned toward his car.

  Panic was welling up inside Megan, and she tried to suppress it. You’ve been kissed before, she reminded herself. This was just unexpected. It just caught you off guard. Even as the excuse ran through her mind, she knew it for a lie. She’d never been kissed like that before. And the situation was no longer under her control.

  “I don’t think I’ll go after all,” she told him in calmer tones.

  Katch turned, smiling at her as he opened the car door. “A bet’s a bet, Meg.”

  Chapter Three

  Katch drove a black Porsche. Megan wasn’t surprised. She wouldn’t have expected him to drive anything ordinary. It wasn’t difficult to deduce that David Katcherton could afford the best of everything.

  He’d probably inherited his money, she decided as she settled back against the silver gray seat cushion. He’d probably never worked a day in his life. She remembered the hard, unpampered feel of his palm. Probably a whiz at sports, she thought. Plays tennis, squash, sails his own yacht. Never does anything worthwhile. Only looks for pleasure. And finds it, she thought.

  Megan turned to him, pushing her swinging hair back behind her shoulders. His profile was sharply attractive, with the dusky blond hair curling negligently over his ear.

  “See something you like?”

  Megan flushed in annoyance, aware that she’d been caught staring.

  “You need a shave,” she said primly.

  Katch turned the rearview mirror toward him as if to check her analysis. “Guess I do.” He smiled as they merged into the traffic. “On our next date I’ll be sure to remember. Don’t say anything,” he added, feeling her stiffen at his side. “Didn’t your mother ever tell you not to say anything if you couldn’t say something pleasant?”

  Megan stifled a retort.

  Katch smiled as he merged into traffic. “How long have you lived here?”

  “Always.” With the windows down, Megan could hear the outdoor