Collect all twelve answers and e-mail them to email@example.com with 12 days of Romance in the subject line to win some great books. There will be three lucky winners.
Sandra Cox Boji Stones
Bronwyn Green Ronan’s Grail
Heather Hiestand Cards Never Lie
Barbara Huffert Deal of a Lifetime
Amarinda Jones Mad About Mirabelle
Kelly Kirch Time for Love
Cindy Spencer Pape Cowboy’s Christmas Bride
Brynn Paulin Fallen
Jacquéline Roth Access Denied
KZ Snow Mrs. Claws
Lacey Thorn Earth Moves
I could see his disapproval from half a block away. I sighed in disgust. “Geez, here comes Jesus-man again.” Rolling my eyes, I took a deliberate swig of my beer and crossed one, bare leg over the other. Leaning back, I closed my eyes and hoped—not prayed, I didn’t pray—he’d ignore me and move on to another lecture recipient. Not that I’d ever seen him lecture anyone—except me. I guess he saw me a special case. Mr. Holier-than-thou saw it as his heaven-given duty to make certain the citizens of that tiny Minnesota town walked the straight and narrow.
I knew my position thrust out my bikini-clad chest and displayed my ample assets. It wasn’t that I wanted to flaunt myself. It was only that I knew it bothered Reverend What-a-hunk Ben Martin. Not in a sexual way. God forbid!
“Gaia, I see we’re at it early today.”
I cracked open an eyelid. “You drinking, too, Ben?” I refused to call him pastor, though he was pastor to a nearby Protestant church. I didn’t know which one, and I wasn’t interested in finding out. If it wasn’t that he lived in the same building I did, I wouldn’t even know him.
He didn’t answer.
“What?” I demanded.
“Why do you do it? What’s hurting you so badly?”
Everything inside me clamped down—my defiance, my pain, my courage. I couldn’t talk about my demons, particularly not to him. “What do you want from me? Some great conversion? Don’t hold your breath, Jesus-man. I’m no Mary Magdalene.”
He shoved his hands in his pockets and gave me a half-smile. He shrugged. “And I’m no savior, so I guess we’re all good.”
I stared at him. “I don’t understand why you bother with me.”
He came forward and leaned his arms on the rail beside my feet. Self-consciously, I dropped them to the ground, but it didn’t deter him. “That’s the thing. You have no idea of your worth. You don’t see what everyone else sees.”
“Oh, I’m pretty sure they see a lonely drunk who doesn’t seem to have a job, but still manages to have plenty of money. You know what that means—I must be a prostitute.”
“No one thinks that.”
“Are you kidding? I’ve heard people say it.” I took another swig of my beer, acting as if I didn’t notice his wince. He sighed and stepped back from the railing.
“You know if you ever need to talk…about anything…I’ll be willing to listen.” He held up his hands and gave that half smile again. “No judgments.”
I made a disbelieving sound. He shook his head. “Well, you’ll know where to find me.”
“Yep, right across the hall. I try to keep my parties to a dull roar. Not disturb you…” I knew none of my parties had ever disturbed him. I never had any. I never had friends over. I didn’t have any in this town. Besides, the people who took my money for bills, gas or groceries, no one talked to me. Except Ben. And I was bent on pushing him away, too.
I didn’t deserve friends. Not after what I’d done. I decided right than that I’d had enough, and I got up. Too quickly. A sudden bout of dizziness made me stumble slightly. I’m sure he thought I was drunk—impossible since I’d only had half a beer—but Ben didn’t say anything as he shot around the railing. In a second, he had an arm around my waist.
I shrugged away. “I guess it’s time for me to stagger off to my cave.”
“Are you okay?”
“Of course, why wouldn’t I be?” Trying my best to look like I had it together and to forget he was probably checking out my attire—pastor or not, he’s a man and he wasn’t going to miss the skimpy red bikini top and raggedy cut-off shorts—I marched across the porch and through the double doors and into the subdivided house where we both rented apartments.
Ben wasn’t checking out my curves, he was following me. “Gaia? Would you like to go have dinner sometime?”
Shock riveted me on the bottom step of the stairway leading to my home. I turned, my one step up, bringing me face to face with his extraordinary green eyes, full lips and slightly over-long hair. A powerful need to lean forward and kiss him rocked through me. I gripped the banister and refused to give in to that desire. Wouldn’t the Jesus-man be horrified by that?
“Why?” I asked. I couldn’t understand him.
“Oh, don’t get me started on that list,” I quipped. Shaking my head, I jogged up the steps. I didn’t stop until I was safely inside my apartment.
The knocking started almost immediately, vibrating against my shoulder blades where I leaned on the door. The man was nothing if not determined. I suppose you would have to be if you pursued his profession in today’s society. In any matter, I knew he wasn’t going away. Reluctantly, I opened my door to find him leaning there, a hand on either side of the frame.
“What?” I demanded, ignoring the awareness that rifled through me at his pursuit. I wouldn’t let it take over. I wouldn’t drag Ben into the quagmire of my life. I chose the snarky path to drive him away. “Shouldn’t you be keeping holy the Lord’s day or something? Is this some mission of yours to—”
My words were cut off when he reached out and threaded his fingers through the hair at the back of my neck, pulling me to him and covering my lips with his. Holy men shouldn’t kiss like that. His lips on mine… sinful.
“Dinner at five. My place.”
“Okay,” I answered before I could think to protest. He disappeared inside his apartment before I could change my mind. I spent the rest of the day wandering the three rooms of my apartment and contemplating what I would have worn to dinner with Ben—would have because I decided as soon as he’d left that there was no way I was going to dinner with the local minister. Not only was I not up for the preaching that was sure to ensue, but I didn’t want to ruin his reputation.