Winning Wyatt

Chapter One

The ringing telephone shattered Kara Enderley’s concentration.  Frowning over the interruption, she clicked the save command on her next week’s art review before snatching up the cordless phone.  “Hello!”

“Hello yourself, Kara mia,” drawled the deep, southern voice that haunted her dreams, a voice that reached out to caress her from two thousand miles away.  “Is this a bad time?”

Damn, she really should check her caller ID, or learn to let voice mail pick up more of her calls.

Unwanted, unexpected memories sent her reeling as her gaze flew with guilty accuracy to the crooked smile and mischievous amber eyes in Wyatt Maitland’s snapshot framed on the shelf above her desk.  It was one of the few mementos she’d saved from the summer they’d spent together three years ago, the summer that had mended the pieces of her fractured life.  Before she knew the truth about him, about his family.

Equal parts of thrill and panic fluttered in the pit of her stomach–just as they always did when he called.  “I am in the middle of something.  Can I call you back?”

“You’re always so busy, Kara,” Wyatt chided.  “Can’t you take a minute to talk to an old friend?”

An old friend?  She pondered the phrase.  They were friends, but not friends.  Lovers, but not lovers.  Still, she owed him much more than a minute of her time.

“Of course.”  Clutching the phone in a grip as tight as the one she kept on her conscience, she prepared herself to follow the long-established rules of their long-distance relationship.  She’d keep things light, just like she always did.  “Have you been to Atlanta to see your family lately?  How are they doing?”

“Xander and Allie are both fine,” he said naming his nephew and his sister, followed by the inevitable pause.  “Mother, too.”

She shivered, envisioning the reigning Georgia Ice Queen at her chilling best.  “Great.  And how’re things at Southern Cal?  Are you drowning in mid-terms yet?”

“I’m knee deep in a stack of essays, just waiting to be graded.”

Silence settled between them and stretched into awkwardness.  She stole a moment to listen to him breathe.  She glanced at the clock and worried.  Not much time left.

“What can I do for you?” she asked, wincing at the utter lack of subtlety.

“So much for small talk.  I guess I’ll get right to it” he said.  “I’d like to see you.”

Her heart pirouetted with intense joy, but her ever-present fear reached out and stomped on the emotion.  “Why?”

“There’s something important we need to discuss.”

She hesitated.  “I doubt it.  We agreed a long time ago that we wouldn’t–”

“Would you be willing to meet with me on Friday night?” he interrupted with a rare break in his perfect southern manners.

“This Friday?”  Kara bit the inside of her cheek.  Their periodic conversations always required a careful balancing act between desire and deceit.  Seeing him in person would render that trick impossible.  She hadn’t been dodging him for three years just to let him waltz back into her life now.

She tapped a pencil on her desk and forced herself to maintain a breezy tone.  “How will that work?  I leave Connecticut and you leave California at a designated time and hope we bump into one another in the middle of Kansas?”

“That’s one possibility.”  She pictured him smiling before he said, “But I’m willing to go the distance.”

She pulled in several deep breaths, her thoughts racing.  “You plan to come here?”  No, God, no.

“Friday, huh?  Great.  Just let me check my schedule.”  She randomly flipped the pages of her desk calendar, groping for inspiration.  “I’m sorry.  I forgot, but I’m afraid I’ll be out of town this Friday.”

“What, again?  I hate to hear it.”  He didn’t sound like he hated it.  He sounded like he didn’t believe it.  “It’s amazing how you’re always out of town when I have business in New York.   Is this a trip you can postpone?  I really need to see you.”

“I’d postpone it if I could,” she improvised, “but I can’t.  I have reservations.  And plane tickets.  I’m going—-on a cruise.  To the Caribbean.  With a friend.  I’m sorry.”

Her guilt finally managed to drag her disjointed ramblings to a halt.  The fabrication must be stone-cold obvious to someone with Wyatt’s razor-sharp acuity.  God, how many times had she imagined meeting him face to face and revealing the truth?  Too many to count, but she could never make herself go through with it.  She had too much to lose.

“A cruise?”  His framed likeness on the wall smiled gentle encouragement down on her, but his voice over the phone carried mild skepticism.  Too mild.  “That sounds like fun, but I’m sorry I won’t get to see you.”

“I’m sorry, too.”  Sorry, sorry, sorry.  How many times had she said that since they’d last been together?

“Then I’ll see you the next time I’m in town, Kara Mia.”

“I’ll look forward to it.”

“I think you should count on it.”

The observation sounded like a threat to Kara’s overburdened conscience.  “I will.”

“I wanted to talk to you about your son, you know.”

Kara’s vision clouded and she stretched out a hand to steady herself.  She clenched the phone between her ear and shoulder while she wiped her sweaty palms against her jeans.  Her heart thudded sickeningly against her ribs.  “My son?” she managed to get out around a throat that constricted like a vise.  “What about him?”

“You said once that his death had seemed so pointless.” Wyatt’s delivery was quiet and careful as he tiptoed over one of their many restricted topics.  “I’ve been trying to think of a way to change that.”

Bitterness honed Kara’s pain with a sharp edge.  “Nothing you do or say can change it.  It serves no purpose to discuss it again.”

He may have cursed under his breath, before speaking more persuasively, “You don’t know that if you won’t listen.”

Before she could reply, another voice, one located much closer than California, spoke to her from the baby monitor on her desk.  “Mo-om.  Mom-mee.”

“I can’t listen to anything you have to say about my son.  I won’t listen,” she admitted.  “I’m sorry, but

I have to go.”  She covered the phone’s mouthpiece to muffle the sound of Sean sneezing in the background.

“You can’t keep avoiding me, Kara.  I’ve been patient long enough,” Wyatt said with more steel to his words than he normally conveyed.

“We’ll talk again soon.  As soon as I get back from the cruise,” she said, frantic now to hang up.  Her son’s voice over the speaker became more demanding.  And raspy.  She leaned forward and strained to hear.  Did he sound congested?  Had he seemed feverish before his nap?  She needed to check his temperature immediately.

“Have a good trip,” Wyatt said.

“Thanks.  You, too.”  She opened her mouth to apologize yet again, but closed it.  Words wouldn’t comfort either one of them unless they included a full confession and forgiveness on both sides.

And that was out of the question.

She’d made her choices long ago.  Too late to second-guess those decisions now.

“Wanta get up,” Sean said, followed by a cough.

“Thanks for calling.”  Kara broke the connection and hovered with her hand on the receiver for one regretful moment.

She hurried to tend to her son, but memories of another set of amber eyes accompanied by a whisky-smooth voice under a starlit sky haunted her thoughts.


In his university office, Wyatt Maitland tossed the phone aside and rubbed his hands over his face.

“Damn,” he muttered, shoving away from his desk.  He moved to stand in front of the window overlooking the annoyingly sunny California campus.  It was October, but he couldn’t tell by looking.  Fall, winter, spring, it didn’t matter.  All the seasons looked the same here, in the land of perpetual sunshine.

He wished he’d followed his original inclination and shown up on Kara’s doorstep unannounced.

But that would have violated the terms of their agreement.  The stupid agreement he’d insisted upon when they met.  The stupidest agreement he’d ever made in his life.  ‘When it’s over between us, it’s over,’ he’d said, presumably for his own protection.  No regrets–and no recriminations.

They’d agreed to the stipulations with a handshake, a kiss, and a week-end of sizzling hot lovemaking, the memory of which still managed to heat his skin.

Of course, that had been before she knew his family owned the company responsible for the deaths of her husband and child.  Hell, he hadn’t even known it himself at the time.

During the past three years he’d deluded himself into thinking he could win her over and recapture her trust, that she’d eventually forgive him, she’d proven decidedly elusive.  But things were about to change.

He’d devised a new strategy to erase the past and right old wrongs.  He wanted to tell her about the plan face-to-face, but could any reparation ever be enough to mend the damage his family had done to her?

Kara was the only woman he’d ever known who hadn’t wanted anything from him.  Before and after she had learned the awful truth, she’d never tried to take advantage of his name or his money or his family’s influence.  And deep down, her emotional distance during their most recent phone conversations made him fear that she needed his support more than anyone else ever had.

Her continued evasions raised the worry that she’d reverted to the wounded sparrow persona he’d first known.  That she’d once again cut herself off from life, friends, love, even though she assured him that she hadn’t.  And if that were true, then his other worry–that she was seriously seeing someone else–chilled him to the bone.

He wished it hadn’t taken him so long to admit she meant more to him than some pleasant summer memories he could store away for the winter like the patio furniture.

If she still wanted to have a baby, he guessed he could at least consider it, not reject the idea with some flippant comment like he had when she’d suggested it before.  Not that he wanted to have a child right away, of course, but eventually…

Wyatt Maitland, family man.

The concept still boggled his mind, but he’d work on getting used to the idea.  After making the effort to get to know his nephew, Xander, in the last few years, he’d realized this parenting-thing might be more rewarding than he’d first suspected.  And he’d also realized there might be more than one area of his life that lacked substance.

But since Kara had once again run away from the idea of meeting with him with something that seemed like complete and total revulsion, he was finished playing by the rules.  It was time to resort to his fallback plan.  Not a plan he embarked on without a few qualms, but anything was better than continuing to stand idly by, waiting for her to rescind their agreement and come to her senses about seeing him.  He was a patient man, but he’d reached his limit.

Before giving himself time to decide against it, he returned to his computer and flipped through his personal contact files.  When he found the number he wanted, he lifted the phone again, ready to make a call he’d promised Kara he would never make.

“Regina?  This is Wyatt Maitland.”

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