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That's all the time Alex Reinhard has to rescue a pilot and his passenger before their crashed plane explodes. He's no hero--yet that's what everyone's calling him. That's especially what he seems to be in the eyes of Candy Norwood, the woman whose life he saved. The mild-mannered bachelor, who happens to be more Clark Kent than Superman, can't deny the sparks flaring up between him and the pretty investment executive. Make that former exec, since Candy left her glamorous Wall Street life behind to find what she considers true success: a peaceful life right there in Alex's hometown.
And she's making room in that life for him. What Candy has for her hero, the hunky but shy owner of the local diner, is more than attraction, it's fascination. That troubles Alex, because isn't this lady way out of his league? Is she just grateful to him for having pulled her from the wreckage? In any case, the man's in trouble, because that fascination is mutual. And the more time he spends in her arms, the more he kisses her, the more powerful her spell over him.
One thing's for certain: There's a short distance between fascination and a deep, true love that can last forever. And that's a distance about to be crossed by two people brought together by fate.
5 Cups "This is a beautifully written story of true love, Candy and Alex have a spark between them from that first explosive meeting, but neither is fully aware of the other's feeling. The emotions from both are intense and made more so by the increased sexual tension of this sweet romance. Ms Keenan has reminded this reviewer that you do not need sexual scenes to have an exceptional and powerful romance."
Candy concluded to herself that, though she hadn't been there when the elder Reinhard was the boss at the Uncloudy Day Diner, she guessed he would have been proud of the new boss. The place looked like it was well maintained, lovingly cared for as more than just a small business. The lingering aromas in the air, wafting in from the grill in the kitchen, was a reminder that one was in a restaurant, but one with an exceptional, almost natural, homespun warmth.
Whether Alex realized it or not, he had a lot to do with having injected that atmosphere into that place.
"I'll just toss this over a hook in the back," he told her, holding up the apron. "And we can get out of here."
"Okay. Those people, Alex . . . " She stepped out of the booth and caught him in mid-stride before he headed into the kitchen. "Your people . . . they love you."
"Who? Paige and the kids?"
"Yes. Paige and the kids."
Grinning, he shrugged. "Eh, I guess you could say we're like a family."
"That's nice. Was it like that when your dad ran the place?"
Alex didn't even have to think about it, giving her a Maine-style answer in the affirmative. "Ayuh."
"Then you've inherited his gift. His way with people. And he must have been a very dear man. Just as you are. No--" She saw him reach to take off his glasses and stopped him with her hands on his arms. "Don't take them off just yet. You don't wear them around me."
His chuckle sounded embarrassed. "I--I look so--"
"Cute. You look very cute with them on." She smiled. "I thought I saw you squint a couple times whenever you're reading a menu or something. Don't do that. Wear your glasses. You look adorable in them."
He lowered his head, chuckled, then looked up at her again. "I thought they made me look old and studious."
"Not at all. And you also thought you had to be such an experienced horseman around me. And who knows what else you think you have to be when you're around me." Wrapping her arms around his waist, she pulled in tight against him. Her voice was low, almost a silky whisper. "Don't you know you don't have to be anyone or anything but my Alex around me?"
Hesitantly, he slipped off his glasses, explaining, "Those are for reading, so . . . you're coming in blurry through them. I don't want you to be blurry."
"I could say the same thing about you. I don't want you to be blurry. I want to see you. I want to see you as you really are, not as you think I should see you."
He wasn't looking directly at her. That made it hard for Candy to read him. She saw him lick his lips; his arms held her, but his weight shifted from one foot to the other.
"I'd better--uh--turn that sign," he said huskily, releasing her.
"The one in the foyer, where the vending machines and the bulletin board are. A customer might think we're still open."
She stepped back, confused. "Okay. I'll hang up the apron for you in the back."
"Thanks, Candy. The hooks are on the wall, to the right of the time clock and the time cards."
Was she totally misreading him? She fretted but was grateful for those few moments alone in the kitchen. Candy found the hooks with the apron easily, in the general vicinity of the small matchbox office Alex shared with Ben and Paige.
Maybe she was coming on too strong? How was that possible? She and Alex had been seeing each other regularly enough to be open with each other. She hadn't dated anyone in a long time and she wasn't some young chick in her twenties anymore, but she wasn't that much out of the loop.
Or was she?
Heading back into the dining area, she returned just as the front door closed behind Alex.
"So, okay. I guess we'd better get to your place," he said.
"Okay. Sure. It's late."
"Yeah, it is. And I don't think we'll have much time for that movie. I have to get back here early in the morning. So, uh . . . some other time."
She smiled, but it was painful, swallowing her disappointment. "I--that's fine, Alex. I'll get my purse. . . . "
"Uh-huh. And Candy?"
She didn't dare so much as flex a muscle, sure that her heart had stopped in anticipation. Her eyes were stinging with unshed tears, as crazy as that was. Tears. She stood there, fighting off the urge to cry, all because it seemed Alex was about to say something that would shatter her heart.
He was going to break up with her. What a teenager's phrase if ever there was one: breaking up. But why? What had happened that night for him to want to part ways? Or was this something that had been coming on for a while and she just hadn't seen it coming? If there was only going back to whatever moment in time it was that had changed things between them, if it was possible at all to make things right before this point had come.
Then she thought she spotted moisture in Alex's eyes as well. He shook his head . . . wiped a sweaty palm against his pants' leg. All the while he refused to look at her, his mouth opened as if to speak, though no words made it out.
At last he took a handful of steps closer to her. Candy pulled in a deep breath and held it, so transfixed by those sad but beautiful blue eyes staring back into hers.
That was when Alex took her by her arms, holding her tightly against him, and he kissed her. That was no gentle, shy kiss, either. It was demanding. Passionate. That kiss might as well have been sending waves of thunder through her, for all it was doing to her.
And long. It was a long kiss. He was taking his time kissing her, like he'd never kissed her before in all that time--and yet Candy had always known he could kiss her that way. With so much emotion and fire, so much soul.
Nevertheless it ended, giving them both a chance to recover from it. She reached her arms up, hugging his neck. Alex's breath was fast and warm against her hair. In a tender move he took her hand, held it to his lips, and kissed her palm, her fingers, the soft space right above her wrist.
"I was afraid you were going to tell me you didn't want to see me anymore," she confided.
"I've been afraid you'd say that to me. Almost from the beginning. And I . . . can't totally understand why you haven't."
Candy thought back to the incident at the club right after another "accidental" meeting with Ryan. If there was ever a time to clear the air, this was it.
"Alex, this is not about my world or your world." Stopping, she searched for the right words to explain. "It's not about what I used to do for a living or where I did it or what my name is. It's not about whether or not your experiences match mine or comparing how many airports we've both been to."
"Although you are--well, you do have a lot of life experience. More than me. And it's--you've been good for me. You make my world bigger, I guess you could say. You made it bigger the day you walked into my life. Or, well, you actually fell into it. From the sky, in fact."
That made her laugh, even more when he saw the humor in what he'd said and chuckled along with her.
After a moment she was serious again. "And this is not about gratitude. Not that I'm not grateful, because I am. I'm grateful you rescued me and Scotty. Neither of us would be alive today if it weren't for you."
"But I didn't rescue you two. Not really. I just pulled you from the wreckage, Candy. I was the one who was rescued that night. You were the one who rescued me."
Candy was dumbfounded. What could she say to those words? There was even a little crack in his voice that moved her to kiss him again. That kiss was over too soon, though they remained in place, their faces only inches apart, enveloped in each other's arms.
"Do you really think that, Alexander?" she asked hesitantly. "Do you think I've made your life bigger?"
"Yeah, I do. There's a lot I wouldn't have even done, especially not now. Maybe when you're younger, you're more adventurous to do stuff." Sheepishly, he laughed. "Only, I didn't ride a motorcycle when I was younger, either."
"It's funny because that night--the night of the crash--we were mostly talking about Scotty. He was feeling so blue about the divorce, you know? And I said I've done a lot in my life and some things that I don't feel very good about, but nothing ever made me feel so alive. But this does. This makes me feel alive."
"Falling so in love with you." Now she felt more vulnerable than she had all night. She was even shaking. There was, though, no wiping away the truth once it was out. "You know, if this doesn't happen to you in your twenties, and maybe it doesn't happen in your thirties, you think--you kinda think--"
"I thought this would never happen to me, either," Alex spoke up with earnest conviction. "I have a sister I never see. I feel bad about that. Maybe she does, too; I don't know. I don't have much family to speak of. I have loyal, good people who work for me, but they go home to their own families. My good friend and his wife save a place for me at their table on the holidays. But now I feel like . . . I feel like . . . "
More trembling. No--Candy realized, with her heart pounding wildly, that that was him. Alex was the one trembling now.
Suddenly, out of the blue, he dropped his arms from around her.
"We really have to go. It's getting late," he announced hoarsely.
"Alex . . . "
"I'm just gonna shut off these lights now, Candy, and we can go." With long, fast strides to the wall behind the counter, he flipped off the switches. "We can't go too fast on that highway, with the snow not letting up and all--"
"Alexander. You feel like you belong to someone. That's what you were going to say. And you do. You belong to me, and I belong to you." In the dim illumination coming from the only light still on, the one in the vestibule, she could see his handsome face. "Maybe it's my turn to tell you that you're safe. It's my turn to say . . . don't be afraid."
For the space of a second Alex stood with his arms at his side, gazing at her, so unsure. But then, with sweet impatience, he marched those final strides across the room, took her into his arms, and kissed her over and over again, each kiss more delicious and pleasurable than the last.
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