Excerpt from "Nora’s Soul" by Margay Leah Justice

“I don’t want there to be any misconceptions or hurt feelings between us, Nora.”

The sound of his harsh voice snapped her attention back to him. “Misconceptions?” she repeated, confused. “About what?”

“About what you and my sister expect is going to happen here.”

“I don’t – “ Her protest died on her lips when he placed a fingertip over them, silencing her. She nearly choked on a shallow breath at the fireball of sensation that roared down to the pit of her stomach at that minute touch. Thankfully, he withdrew the finger before she could do anything really damaging to her pride – like suck it into her mouth – but the fiery sensation lingered in her stomach, quietly banking a fire of old sensations into full life.

“I don’t need a social secretary,” he said, seemingly unaware of her reaction to him. “If I did need a secretary, I’d find one through a headhunter, not my sister.”

“Okay.”

“And I certainly wouldn’t take one whose background is in social services.”

“Well, then, it’s a good thing I’m not here to be your secretary.”

“Good. Now that we’ve got that established, let’s move on.”

“Please do.”

Kyle ignored that last comment as he launched into his speech. As he spoke, he made a leisurely circle about Nora, pausing to lean toward her in punctuation of each sentence.

“I’m not looking for a wife or a new mother for my children – “

“I’m not – “

“ – so if that’s the little scheme you’ve got going with my sister, you can just forget about it now.”

“I don’t have any ‘little scheme’ going with Joelle – or anyone else, for that matter!”

“Glad to hear it,” Kyle said, his tone belying his words. “Let’s move on, shall we?”

“Oh, please do.”

“I live alone. I like that.”

His breath skimmed her right ear as he leaned in close to her, front to front. She tried not to shudder at the pleasurable sensation it sent shimmering down her neck and into her stomach, where it joined the fire still banked there. She feared that she failed miserably. She almost didn’t hear his next words in the aftermath of the sensations he aroused in her.

“I throw my clothes on the floor when I undress.” He slipped around her right shoulder, but circled close to it – too close. “I leave the toilet seat up. I squeeze toothpaste from the middle. I sleep in the nude.” He leaned over her shoulder. His lips pressed to her ear, his breath searing a path down the left side of her neck now that, oddly enough, brought chills to her spine. “I like that.”

As the chills rippled through her, Nora swayed, slightly off-balance. Kyle righted her equilibrium with a quick, painless jab of his knees to the backs of hers. Then he pulled back, abruptly, completed his circle as he drilled home his point. “I don’t want anyone picking up my clothes. I don’t want anyone putting down the toilet seat or telling me where to squeeze my toothpaste.” He paused to quirk his lips in what could almost pass for a smile at the suggestive statement. “And I don’t want anyone buying me silk pajamas. I don’t want to be reformed.” He leaned his face so close to Nora’s then that his features filled her entire realm of vision. “Got that?”

Well, of all the arrogant, insufferable – ! Nora was trembling with rage by the conclusion of Kyle’s little speech. Just who the hell did he think he was, anyway, making demands like that?

“That’s what I missed about you all these years, Kyle,” she said with hard-won calm. “That charming personality.”

Kyle smiled then, but it was just a flexing of the muscles; there was no warmth to it. He leaned nearer to Nora, the tip of his nose in a position to touch hers should either of them make the slightest movement. It was an oddly intimate pose; a slight twist to the left, or a slight twist to the right, and their lips would be touching, even if no other parts of their bodies were. But the heat of his body – emanating from his skin in a wonderfully male scent that reminded her of warm summer days at the beach – did touch her; like a brand, searing another impression of him on her heart. The urge to melt into him wasn’t as hard as the urge to pull away; it took all of her strength to resist it. Oh, no, she wouldn’t give him that.

“Oh, I can be very charming.” He dropped the smile. “Or not.” Withdrawing, he stared down his nose at her, pointed a finger toward her collarbone. “Your choice. Just remember this – I don’t want to be seduced.”

“Oh, I don’t think there’s any chance of that,” Nora said, her voice so thick with sarcasm she nearly choked on it. She thought she detected a flicker of something – admiration, perhaps – in his eyes when she stated, “I’m here to take care of your children’s needs, not yours.” But whatever she thought she saw in his eyes was gone before she could name it. Must be my imagination, she decided.

“See that you remember that.”

“Oh, I will.”

They faced off for an eternal moment, two battle-scarred warriors at an emotional impasse. Each waiting for the other to flinch first. When that didn’t happen, they simultaneously relaxed their stances, as if by some silent agreement.

Kyle took a wary step backward. His eyes never left her face. “Good. Then there’s nothing left to discuss. Is there?”

“Just one thing,” she said when he would’ve turned away. She ignored the annoyed look he cast over his shoulder as he paused on his flight up the stairs. She started down the hall toward the sounds of merriment emanating from the kitchen, but paused when she came abreast of Kyle on the stairs. “I take my responsibilities very seriously.” She hesitated, for effect, then drove the statement home with, “All of them.” And then she was gone, leaving Kyle to stare after her in wonder.