The security alarm chimed. Someone had stepped inside the studio. Exhaling a heavy breath, Izzy pulled back her shoulders, lifted her head and forced a smile.
“Hi, how can I…” Her heart stopped. Trent Palmer stood just inside the door. “Why are you here?”
His dark green gaze bored relentlessly into hers, his strong jaw set as he reached behind him and shut the door. “I came by to see how you’re doing.”
Traitorous attraction skittered over the surface of her skin before Izzy turned and strode toward the corner she used for staging portrait shots. The fluffy bunnies, huge furry dice and toys she’d used to relax a toddler earlier now felt macabre.
She spun around, clutching a teddy bear. “The same as I was doing yesterday and the day before. I told you I don’t want to see you. I don’t ever want to see you. Why do you keep coming back?”
He came closer, his gaze locked on hers. “You have to talk to me. I was Robbie’s friend. There was nothing—”
“You could do. Fine. I get it, but why do you feel the need to keep coming in here and checking up on me? What do you want me to do? Dance in the street? Kick up my heels at the fairground? God, just leave me alone.”
“There’s a beach party tonight. I want you to come with me.”
She stared. Why him? Why would a man she really liked—a damn firefighter—have to pursue her like she was someone worth pursuing? “No.”
He looked at the equipment covering the desk alongside him. He lifted and replaced a camera, the hunch of his wide shoulders indicating his discomfort. Izzy hated that she drew no satisfaction from that…only sadness.
He turned. “I want you to come and show your face to the people who care about you. Kate said—”
“Kate had no right to say anything to you.” She lifted her chin. “I’m fine.”
“Then come to the beach.”
He crossed his arms. “Why not? What good is it doing you, hiding away in here twenty-four-seven?”
“I’m not hiding.” Liar. “My work is better than it’s ever been. I have lots to keep me busy, and I don’t need you or a damn beach party to make me feel better.”
“This isn’t who you are, Iz. You’ve always worked, always been ambitious, but everyone is used to you taking pictures while you play as well as work. Where have you gone? Don’t you think Robbie would’ve wanted you to step out into the sunlight now and then?”
The sound of her brother’s name on Trent’s lips brought the sting of tears to her eyes. “Don’t talk to me about Robbie. He would want me to do whatever I wanted and right now the last thing I want to do is talk to you.” She turned her back to him and tossed the bear into a plastic crate of other props. She sighed. “Please, Trent. Just get out of here.”
“You know as well as I do that Robbie wanted us together. He actively encouraged it.”
“Yeah, he did and look how that turned out.”
His jaw tightened. “Are you saying it was no good? That we were no good? God, Iz, Robbie would’ve loved knowing we finally got together.”
Loss wrapped around her heart making it ache. “Maybe, but he would’ve also seen we were a bad idea together too.”
Hurt flashed in his eyes, before he exhaled heavily. “Look, you might not want to talk to me, but there’s someone else we have to think about.”
She planted her hands on her hips, her body humming with irritation and the urge the grip him by his stupidly large biceps and march him out of her studio. Didn’t he realize he was invading her only place of peace? “Who?”
“Maya Jackson. We have to do this calendar, Iz. We promised. If we don’t set up the shoot soon, it won’t be ready for Christmas. That little girl, her family and Kate are relying on you…us…to do this.”
She tipped her head back and glared at the ceiling. There was no way she’d let down Maya, suffering so acutely with leukemia, any more than she would continue in a relationship with date the firefighter who’d failed to respond quick enough to save her brother. No matter how the results of the ensuing investigation had confirmed it had been a falling beam that killed Robbie at the garage, she had to blame someone or she’d go insane.
The safest person to blame was strong, reliable Trent. A man she’d grown to deeply care for and admire during the four years before Robbie died. A man who knew her and her brother. Knew her home and her life…and who, God damn it, still wanted to know her.
He didn’t deserve her derision; he didn’t deserve everything she threw at him, yet time and again, he became her target. She had to keep his interest at bay. Better still—stop it altogether.
Rachel lives with her husband and two teenage daughters in a small town near Bath in the UK. After having several novels published by small US presses, she secured agent representation in 2011. Since 2013, she has had six books published by Harlequin Superromance (Templeton Cove Stories) and recently signed a contract for two more. She also has four Victorian romances with eKensington/Lyrical Press.
Rachel is a member of the Romantic Novelists Association and Romance Writers of America, and was selected to mentor the Superromance finalist of So You Think You Can Write 2014 contest. When she isn’t writing, you’ll find Rachel with her head in a book or walking the beautiful English countryside with her family. Her dream place to live is Bourton-on-the-Water in South West England.
She likes nothing more than connecting and chatting with her readers and fellow romance writers. Rachel would love to hear from you!