TAINTED LOVE

Once upon a time, she had been wild too.

No more. Experience had trained her well, pruned her hard. Now her behavior was as tame and mannerly as the great drifts of lavender that softened the cottage's fieldstone foundation. And like those showy plants, she had become self-contained and self-consciously ornamental, essentially attractive and entirely superficial -- a damn fashion accessory draped on the arm of a certain wealthy and prominent Boston banker.

Charles. She would not think of her fiance now.

Instead she glided to her knees. Dislodging long-rooted dandelions, digging out stubborn crab grass, while leaving behind fledgling seedlings -- volunteers, her grandmother called them -- to grow on without competition, she lost herself to the mindless occupation. Faster and faster, plucking and yanking, she discarded the garden tyrants, the weeds forming a wilted pile in no time at all.

Digging in the dirt was far more therapeutic than swallowing the laudanum her esteemed Boston doctor had prescribed to aid her troubled sleep and calm her frazzled nerves. If only sunshine and warm earth came in medicinal form, she would gladly swallow a tincture-full...

A snap of a twig. The crunch of footsteps. The steady drone of bees and birds gone suddenly quiet.

Wait! Over there -- did someone watch her from behind the dense cover of trees?

Her nape prickling, she drew her soiled and fluttering fingertips up her thighs. From the force of recently acquired habit, she clasped her white-knuckled hands in her lap -- to mask any remaining unsteadiness -- while she awaited the appearance of another aberration. Or apparition. Or figment of her imagination. Of late, they had all become too frequent visitors.

"Is anyone there?" she called on the outside chance that perhaps, just perhaps, this time her tormentor was flesh and blood.

"Did I frighten you?" asked a disembodied voice.

Not only was that warm and sensual baritone real, its owner was instantly recognizable as he stepped out from behind his green cover.

His presence did nothing to reassure her. Quite the opposite. She trembled at the sight of him.

Independent of her recent reserve, she said what sprang to mind. "Yes! You did frighten me!"

Unfortunately, with spontaneity came honesty -- not the best method of dealing with Doyle Donovan. The truth would give this man too much power over her. Too much control.

The truth might very well get her killed.

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