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Courtship of the Recluse


gossiping of her coworkers left her at the edge of her patience at the end of the day.
That quiet walk home was her chance to relax - that and a good book.
Promptly at nine, she removed her apron and crossed to the table where Cade sat
nursing his fifth cup of coffee. She slid into the opposite bench and let her gaze drop
significantly to the cup in his hand.
“You’re not going to sleep a wink tonight.”
He stared down at the cup absently. “Never has any effect on me.”
Somehow that was no surprise. She waited for him to open the conversation, idly
wondering if it would be ten before he spoke. Finally she cleared her throat.
“The diner closes at ten.”
He glanced up and nodded. “How long have you been working here?”
“Six months - since Dad died. I took care of him for three years - every since I
graduated from high school.”
He nodded and fell silent again.
She crossed and uncrossed her legs, studied her fingernails and finally decided to
prompt him again.
“I understand you have a big ranch west of here.”
He gave the usual nod. “Forty miles.”
She pursed her lips and whistled softly. “That’s a long way to drive for steak and
potatoes.”
For a second she thought he was going to smile. His eyes flashed with humor, but it
was gone before it could reach his lips.
“Do you like working here?” He finally asked.
She shrugged. “The work isn’t so bad.” When he continued to watch her, she smiled
wryly. “I’m not much of a social person I guess.”
“I see.” He was watching her intently. “You’d be happier taking care of a rambling old
house in the middle of nowhere?”
She laughed. “That’s not as far out as you might think.” She sobered and stared at
her hands. “I guess I should go to college and make something of myself. When I was
taking care of Dad there wasn’t time to take classes and he died owing a lot of money,
so I had to sell the house.”
Why was she revealing her private affairs to this stranger? She shrugged, her face
growing warm.
“I guess those are all excuses. I suppose I’m simply not very ambitious.”
His brows lifted slightly and his gaze was direct.
“What is ambition?”
She stared at him. Surely his vocabulary included such a simple word.
“It’s ...”
She paused, realizing he was looking for a deeper meaning. She shrugged again.
“I suppose it is different things for different people - dreams or goals.”
He was still watching her intently. “So looking after a rambling old house could be an
ambition?”
She squirmed under his penetrating stare. What was this thing he had about an old
rambling house? She finally shrugged once more.
“I suppose so.”
He shifted his attention to the lighted street. Apparently he was merely looking for
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