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Other People's Secrets

By Cassie Walder


Gina Matthews is determined to put the past behind her and make a new life for herself and her career. Leaving Houston and her unfaithful fiance behind, she heads for Illinois, yet finds some aspects of the past are difficult to avoid.

Meeting handsome Bernard LaCroix, Gina realizes how difficult it will be to live without love. Bernie is everything she wants in a man, and everything her former love is not. But can their love survives her secrets, and the secrets of others?



Gina wasn't sure which she hated worse on this Monday morning in late May, the butterflies in her stomach or the elephants in tap shoes dancing along with them. Being this anxious about anything wasn't wise. But she couldn't help it. She'd left Houston behind in favor of starting over in northern Illinois.

Her new solo architectural practice would soon have an initial home. She would have an apartment. This building would serve both purposes, if she got the lease. That was the question. Would the owner go for the modifications to the building that she needed to have done to make it suit her purposes?

She hoped so. Of all the places she'd looked at to house her practice, this building was the only one that she really wanted. Others would do, she supposed. But this was closest to her dream about what her offices should be.

After parking her motorcycle in the back parking lot and walking around the building for another inspection, she removed sketches from the soft leather portfolio she had stowed in one of her big bike's saddlebags. She had drawn the changes she wanted to do to the building. They weren't all that major.

Gina looked at her watch. It was nine on the dot. She was right on time for her meeting with Mary, the rental agent. "Gina, come on in. I have someone I want you to meet," Mary said by way of greeting. There was a man standing beside the rental agent.

Gina couldn't take her eyes off of him. Watching him watch her filled her with breathless anticipation, almost a sense of giddiness. She couldn't remember ever feeling this degree of attraction when meeting anyone. Oh, she'd been attracted to men before. Luc. Jim. Sure, she was no stranger to desire. But it had never been either this immediate or overwhelming. Nor had she ever felt attraction to a man near her own age, until now.

She couldn't stop looking at him. It was clear he had a similar problem where she was concerned.

At first glance, he was rather average looking--about six feet tall, and one hundred eighty pounds of lean muscle, dark hair, dark eyes. But first glances were deceptive. There was nothing average about this man, not one thing.

His faded jeans molded to his strong thighs and flat belly. The long sleeved uniform shirt didn't hide the strength of his shoulders, chest, and arms. She suspected that the rest of him was equally well defined. It was a definition that came from hard work, not an overpriced fitness center membership. There was both intelligence and humor in his dark eyes. More than that, there was fire and strength.

She wanted to throw herself into his arms and never leave his embrace. A woman could lose herself in him, all too easily. He'd take everything she was. Then he'd demand more. Yet, he'd give as much as he took. This was a man who could be everything to her. In return, she'd be everything to him. That frightened her. She didn't want to be 'everything' to anyone.

Gina didn't know whether to throw herself into his arms or to turn around and run away as fast as she could.

This man would definitely be a demanding lover, taking and giving in equal measures. She wondered what it would be like to kiss him, how he'd touch her, what that gorgeous mouth of his would do if it ever got between her legs. She pushed those thoughts away, quite aware, however, that they would be back. Those sorts of speculations always returned.

* * * *
This was the architect, Regina Matthews? His first impression of her was that she was very young. She looked like any of the teenage kids he hired as plumbing apprentices and gophers. But he knew that she couldn't possibly be that young and be a licensed architect and structural engineer. So, she had to be in her thirties, at least.

He looked past her wire rimmed eyeglasses, into her eyes. Those dark eyes held the sorrows of the world. She wasn't a happy woman. Only two things could make a woman look so sad: betrayal by, or loss of, someone she loved. Which had she endured?

Although she wasn't classically beautiful, when her features were considered separately, her face and form blended in a very pleasing way. She was about his height--tall for a woman. There was strength in her--both in body and in soul--which made him believe she would return measure for measure whatever he gave her--affection or disrespect. This was a woman who would be a powerful ally or a fierce enemy. He'd definitely prefer her as an ally, or something much more intimate.

He had to admit that the black leather biker chick outfit she wore didn't add to his impression of her as a mature woman. Woman, yes. There was no doubt that the person in those leathers was all woman. He couldn't help but think of peeling that jacket from her and running his hands under her silk shirt, over the pert breasts he fantasized would be as silky as the fabric.

Silk, he wondered, as he took a second glance at the long sleeved T-shirt. Yes, silk. Surprising. On second thought, that didn't surprise him. The white gold and diamond watch on her wrist had easily cost the price of a new car. And her leathers were obviously custom made. She clearly settled for nothing less than the very best in life.