Melodie Carr reluctantly clicked delete on the e-mail with a disappointed sigh. She couldn’t contribute to the charity calendar for the Hero Family Fund, a cause very close to her heart, because she didn’t know anyone suitable to photograph. Although her photography work varied—from children to pets, landscapes to portraits, she’d done a bit of everything—she got the impression the call for calendar models sought hunky guys to create a collection to make women swoon. Unfortunately, she didn’t work with professional models and therefore had to give up on the idea. A cute dog, something she had plenty of images of, simply wouldn’t cut it.
She might not be able to contribute, but resolved to find out when the calendar would be available and do her bit to help by buying a few copies. Some eye candy on her wall would definitely not go amiss, and her friends Poppy, Lola and Charis, and her grandmother, Joyce, would no doubt appreciate it. She grinned. Joyce, always good fun, said, there’s no such thing as too much eye candy. The saucy old broad.
Her smile faded. She missed her, having not been back to Boston to see her friends and family for a while. She should ask Joyce to come and visit her in New York—she hadn’t traveled much, and would love the hustle and bustle, the endless opportunities to people watch. Maybe Melodie and the rest of the family could buy her a ticket for her birthday. She’d have to give it some thought. It sure would be nice to see a familiar face, other than via Skype.
Someone pressed the buzzer to her apartment and she sighed again. Probably a delivery driver trying to get into the building.
Taking her time getting to the intercom, she hoped whoever it was would go away. No such luck—the buzzer squawked again. She inhaled deeply, trying to rein in her annoyance and avoid being rude or abrupt.
“Hi,” a male voice said. “Are you Melodie? Melodie Carr?”
“I am.” A caller looking for her? Had she ordered something and forgotten about it? “Who’s calling?”
“It’s Patrick,” the voice replied. “Patrick Brogan.”
“Patrick….” Speechless, she laid a hand on the wall to steady herself as the bottom dropped out of her world. Evidently, running to New York—albeit under the pretense of a good career move—hadn’t been enough. Her past still followed her, still tried to flood her with reminders of what she’d lost.
Damn, the man’s persistent. She never should have admitted her identity before asking his. She could have told him he’d gotten the wrong place and sent him away.
Not that it would have worked. There was only one place he could have gotten her address—her parents. And no way she’d get away with giving them a fake one. Plus, she did happen to be one of the few residents who had a name next to her button on the panel outside.
“Are you there?”
Damn her parents! Damn her late fiancé’s brother. Why couldn’t they just leave her alone?
A moment ago she’d been craving a familiar face, and now one waited to get in. She should let him come up—it wasn’t his fault his brother had died, after all. He’d been as devastated as her.
She pressed the button. “Come on up.”
Peering in the large mirror over the fireplace, she immediately regretted it. She’d never intended to go out or see anyone that day, and wore scruffy tracksuit pants and an old T-shirt. No makeup, and her hair…well, it resembled a bird’s nest. Groaning, she resigned herself to the fact it would take more than smoothing her hair to appear presentable. But she couldn’t do anything about it. Patrick would be there any minute.
She switched on the coffeemaker. Maybe she could distract him from her disheveled state with caffeine. It couldn’t hurt to try.
A few seconds later, a knock sounded. Hurrying over to the door—refusing to peek into the mirror again, there was no sense in scaring herself as well as him—she opened it. There he stood, in all his black-haired, green-eyed, high-cheekboned glory. Dressed in a charcoal-colored suit and shiny black shoes, he was a million miles away from the grungy college student she remembered.
“Patrick, is that really you?” Her words were moronic. But she couldn’t take them back.
“Please, come on in.” Moving aside to let him pass, she closed the door. When she turned around again, he stood directly in front of her, a grin on his handsome face.
“How the hell are you?”
For an awkward moment she had no idea whether they should shake hands or hug. Eventually, he made the decision for them and opened his arms wide. “Come here.”
She paused for a millisecond, feeling odd. It would be even more odd if she didn’t embrace him, so she gingerly clasped her hands behind his back.
Inhaling a breath at the tight squeeze he gave her, she regretted it when the spicy scent of his cologne wafted up her nose, onto her tongue, and down her throat. Then her sense of smell had to contend with the subtler notes of a similar spicy shampoo and shower gel. All were delicious, and all made her want to stay wrapped in his arms, sucking in his comforting, masculine scent forever.
Pulling away, horrified, she wanted to slap her own face. What a ridiculous notion. Patrick—her dead fiancé’s brother, for heaven’s sake. She’d obviously been without a man for too long. He watched her with a strange expression and she offered him a wan grin.
“I’m surprised to see you. What are you doing here?”
“Here, or in New York?”
“Both! Come on, sit. Can I get you a coffee?”
“Yes, that would be great. Black, no sugar, please.”
She grimaced. “Ugh. Okay, coming right up.”
After pouring the coffee—hers with plenty of milk and sugar—she headed back to the living area, placed the mugs on the table, and sat in the chair at a right angle to the one he occupied.
“This is a nice place you’ve got here.”
Melodie shrugged and looked around the sparsely-decorated apartment. “You’re being nice. It’s a dump. I can’t afford anything else. Though, admittedly, it would have been much tidier if I’d known you were coming.”
“I’m sorry. I should have called first. Being nearby, I thought it would be crazy not to stop by on the off chance you were here.”
“It’s all right. As long as you know my place isn’t usually in this state.” She took a sip of her drink. “So, what are you doing in New York, then?”
“I just moved here for work.” Cradling his mug, he settled back in the chair.
“Oh? What are you doing? Still the veterinary stuff?”
At twenty-eight, they were the same age, and he had gone to college around the same time she had. She’d stayed local to be near Sean—near him when he came home on leave, anyway—but Patrick had headed out of state to get the required qualifications to become a vet.
“Yeah. I specialized in mixed-practice veterinary medicine and am employed at the Central Park Zoo.”
“The zoo? Wow, that’s so cool. Like, really cool. How long have you been there?”
“Less than a day. I came straight here from a meeting. They offered me the position. Which is damn lucky, as I’ve got a twelve-month contract on my new apartment.” He grinned.
“What? Talk about flying by the seat of your pants. But, congratulations! You should be celebrating. Let’s celebrate.”
They leaned toward each other and clinked coffee mugs.
“So,” she said, punctuating her words with a sip of coffee, “A new life. Here in New York.”
“Yeah. It’s so exciting. It’s such a great place. I mean, home is great too, obviously. It’s not the same anymore, though. You know?”
“Yeah, I know.” Christ, did she. When Sean had died, the sun switched off for her. To know he would never come home again or go anywhere again. She’d never hold him, kiss him, marry him, have his children, grow old with him….
She’d known the risks of, course, when they’d gotten together—he’d already been serving by that point—but knowledge didn’t make it any easier. Losing him had been unfair, so disgustingly unfair. They’d had their whole lives ahead of them. It had been a needless death, too—even more needless than the usual casualties of war. Friendly fire.
Friendly. Fucking. Fire.
The only saving grace was that there’d been hardly any time for him to feel pain, his death happened so quickly.
“Melodie? Are you all right? I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have brought it up.” Setting his mug down, he perched on the arm of her chair and slipped a hand around her shoulders.
As she glanced up at him, sudden, violent tears blurred her vision. “It’s okay. It’s not your fault. Not at all. I still think about him all the time. Miss him all the time.” She sniffed and swiped the back of her hand across her eyes. “I do my best to keep busy, stay occupied, but it’s only a temporary respite. I go to sleep thinking of him, dream about him, wake up thinking of him. I’m like a woman obsessed, except I’m obsessed with a dead man.”
“Christ, Melodie.” Patrick squeezed tighter and rested his chin on her head. “I don’t know what the fuck to say, because I know for a fact nothing will help.”
In lieu of a reply, she leaned into his chest, not caring that she smeared tears over his beautiful suit. She was grateful for his presence. A familiar face, he knew what she'd gone through, what she struggled with. After emerging from the initial shock of Sean’s death and coming to the conclusion she still couldn’t handle it, not even close, she’d been desperate to get away.
She bunched her hands around the lapels of his suit and figured perhaps it hadn’t been such a good idea to run after all. Yes, permanent reminders of Sean no longer surrounded her, but she’d also torn away from the people who loved her, would support her and do their best to care for her. People who understood.
Perhaps, then, Patrick’s relocation to New York would benefit her. He might be a reminder—a flesh and blood reminder—but also a friend, and a good man. They’d both lost someone they loved deeply. Without a doubt, he’d support her, and she’d do her best to help him, too.