The Novelist's Obsession.

Obsession: n. a persistent, disturbing preoccupation with an idea or feeling; also: an emotion or idea that causes such a preoccupation.

Synonyms: fetish, fixation, mania, preoccupation, prepossession.

My name is Eve Donnelly. I am a 37-year-old widow and novelist. I am a self-confident, voluptuous, 5'6" woman, with bright green eyes, a wide sensuous mouth, and shoulder-length auburn hair.

My life was rich and full, almost perfect, but circumstances changed all that. This is the story of my obsession.

The Las Vegas Vampire Convention had been the culmination of all that I had worked for the past six years. Writing the Dusk Trilogy had been inspired by my fixation with a young actor, ten years my junior.

I had first seen twenty-one year old Emmett McCarty in a cheesy, low budget, soap opera entitled Lovers. Most of the actors were mediocre, but he stood out—a real talent. After seeing him in a few guest spots on primetime TV shows, I was determined to present him with a project that would showcase that incredible talent, not to mention his beautiful, god-like appearance. Elliott Craven was born.

To say that I was taken with his appearance the first time I saw him is an understatement. His impressive, muscular 6'5" frame was perfect. Strong shoulders flowed into beautifully proportioned arms, ending with large, long, thick-fingered hands that brought highly erotic images to my mind. His massive, sculpted chest narrowed to abdominals that rippled with a six-pack of muscle, and a defined V disappeared beneath the low-riding waist of his package hugging jeans. Watching the muscles in his long, denim-covered legs bunch and ripple when he walked was panty-soaking, and when he turned around, I forgot to breathe.

He had a face that took my breath away. Dark, curly, brown hair and clear blue eyes were complemented by arched eyebrows, and a large, aquiline nose led to full, bow-shaped lips that made me shiver. But it was the delicious, deep dimples etched into his cheeks and framing his mouth that made my heart race. Though he was much younger than me, I was extremely attracted to him. No one had affected me that way since my late husband, Michael, had been alive.

For six years, between the first time I saw Emmett and the present, I had insisted that I remain anonymous, using a pseudonym to publish my books. I didn't do book signings, interviews, or even have my photograph on the back of the dust-covers. I was still afraid of calling attention to myself. The circumstances surrounding Michael's death kept me in my secluded mountain cabin, in the heart of the Ozark Mountains.

At twenty-seven, Michael was ten years my senior. He was a handsome, charming, kind, honest and sincere man, and he loved me, treating me like a princess. We married after a six-week courtship, running off to Vegas. He was one of the best lawyers in the state, and we settled down in Little Rock. Within five years, he became the youngest man to have made partner in one of the most prestigious law firms in the state capitol. Our lives were perfect.

We tried to have children and, after ten years, we were in the final stages of adoption when he was taken from me by the disgruntled wife of a man Michael had helped send to prison. Two weeks after the trial ended, she shot him through the heart as he was leaving the courthouse, instantly leaving me widowed at the age of twenty-seven.

I lived in a state of limbo for the next six months. My therapists at a private clinic urged me, as part of the healing process, to write my feelings in a journal. They felt that setting everything down on paper was tantamount to verbalizing.

I finally came to grips with it all and was released from the clinic. Deciding to leave the "big city", I found a place in the mountains, away from the constant staring eyes and whispering tongues of people. Michael had left me without money worries and when I found my cabin, I knew that was where I wanted to be. Two years later, almost to the day of Michael's death, I settled into my cabin.

Having a BA in English, I decided that I would try to write, with moderate success. Two years later, I saw my obsession on Lovers, and found the inspiration to write for him. Once I started, I became immersed in the world I was creating, stopping only to eat and sleep. The first book, Dusk, was written in eight months, and my best friend and agent, Sydney Campbell performed her magic, finding the perfect publisher. Eighteen months later, Dusk hit the bookstores, becoming an immediate success. Four years later, Night and Morning had completed the trilogy.

The only person who knew my true identity was Syd. All of my literary business was conducted through her office, and I trusted her implicitly. The trilogy became more popular than either of us had expected, and soon we were being approached for the movie rights. Syd certainly earned her twenty percent

Emmett McCarty had been the inspiration for Elliott Craven, and one of my stipulations for signing the movie deals was that Emmett portrayed Elliott. I had been adamant about it. Poor Sydney had her hands full when he had originally turned down the role, but with her constant haranguing, his manager finally talked Emmett into taking the part. So, after months of negotiation, filming began. I like to think that Emmett came to enjoy playing the huge, strong, tender-hearted, intelligent, loving and loyal vampire that I had created. Elliott was perfect in my estimation.

Syd had become seriously concerned about me and my obsession with my lead character and his portrayer. She was forever encouraging me to get out, away from my computer and the seclusion of my cabin, but my world revolved around them, and the books I was writing. She didn't think it was healthy.

When I agreed to accompany her to the convention, it was on the understanding that I remain anonymous. No one was to know that Lacey Mallory was, in reality, Eve Donnelly, especially not Emmett. Syd was so excited that I was going, she agreed instantly.

We arrived at the Las Vegas Hilton Hotel, adjacent to the Convention venue, early on Friday afternoon, and despite all of my doubts and wariness, I was actually excited. After settling in our penthouse suite, we headed down to the convention hall for the evening meet-n-greet.

The majority of the attendees were made up of the teen fan base of the series. There were, however, a number of older women…cougars, if you will…and even some men.

Syd had spotted a small group of agents and managers she was acquainted with, and joining them, introduced me simply as her friend, Eve.

I had been standing with them for a while when I decided I was thirsty, so excusing myself, I headed toward the bar at the end of the room. Catching the attention of a devilishly attractive bartender, I sat on an empty stool and ordered a Southern Comfort and cream soda.

"I'm afraid I'm gonna have to "card" you, sweetheart," he said, grinning flirtatiously. "You don't look old enough to be drinking anything alcoholic."

"Well, Brad is it?" I asked, glancing at his nametag. "I really appreciate the compliment, but I've been old enough for quite a while, now."

"I'll just have to see your ID…" he started with a grin, waiting for me to supply my name.

"Eve," I replied with a knowing smile.

"Eve," he said with a nod, pouring my drink. "You certainly don't look that old. What are you, twenty-five or twenty-six?"

"That, plus ten," I replied as he set my glass in front of me. "Thank you."

He was called away by another customer, and I sat gazing around the room. I caught sight of most of the stars of the trilogy, but not the one I wanted to see.

Turning back to the bar, I looked down as I dipped my finger into my glass and swirled it around before lifting it to my mouth. Looking up as I sucked it between my lips, my eyes locked with a pair of beautiful, blue eyes I'd have known anywhere. I slipped the finger from my mouth slowly, never looking away from those eyes, and watched his nostrils flare as his eyes darkened.

Then he smiled, flashing those beautiful dimples. With a nod, he lifted his glass, and I picked up my drink and returned the gesture. Setting his empty glass down, he blew me a cheeky kiss and disappeared back into the crowd.

My head was spinning and my heart was racing. I had known that I would undoubtedly see him, but to have him flirt with me, from across the bar, was more than I had hoped for. Remembering the flash of those panty-dropping dimples, I pressed my thighs tightly together. It was then that I felt the wetness between my legs, and I groaned softly.

Taking my drink, I returned to Syd and her friends, but I was now distracted, frequently glancing around the room to find him. Occasionally our eyes would meet for a long moment, and then he would turn back to greeting his fans. At one point I heard the sound I had so been looking forward to. Across the room, his hearty, booming laugh rang out, causing shivers to run down my back.

I was pleased to see that his eyes were twinkling. So often of late, in the pictures and videos I had viewed online, he looked sad, his eyes a flat blue. Since his skyrocket to fame, he was seen everywhere with Rosalie Hale on his arm. It seemed to me that he was uncomfortable being seen with her and drawing the attention of the media, especially the paparazzi. I was desperate for him to be happy, and I sometimes worried that I had interfered too much in his life.

I glanced around again, disappointed when I couldn't find him. Suddenly, the hair stood up on the back of my neck, and I felt warmth against my back. I quickly turned to stare into a hard wall of muscle, covered in a blue linen shirt and a black blazer. I slowly raised my eyes to a face split by a broad grin and deep dimples. With a gasp, I stepped back, my hand rising to my throat.

"Hello," he spoke, his voice causing me to shiver. "I'm Emmett McCarty."

I felt heat creep up my neck and into my cheeks. For a moment, I was tongue tied, feeling like a teenage girl meeting her first crush, staring into his sparkling eyes. With a mental shake of my head, I let a smile touch my lips as my self-confidence returned.

"Oh, I know who you are," I said. "I think everyone knows who you are. That's why they're here."

"They're here?" he asked, quirking an eyebrow. "What about you?"

"Oh, I'm just here with my friend, Sydney," I replied, pointing to the group behind me. "She's a big fan, and she didn't want to come here alone."

"Hmm…well, I saw that your glass was empty and had Brad make you another drink," he said, holding it out to me. "You really seemed to enjoy the last one…I know I did."

"Thank you," I said, taking it from him, and swirling my finger in it. "Yes, I like my SoCo and Cream."

Then, with a sultry look, I brought the finger to my lips, never taking my eyes from his. As I opened my mouth to suck it in, he grasped my hand and slipped my finger between his own lips. I swallowed a gasp.

"Mmm, very smooth," he murmured, pulling my finger slowly from his mouth. "I've never tasted anything like it."

I started to speak when Syd called my name.

"Eve, I'm really tired, and I think I'm…Oh!" she exclaimed, noticing whom I was talking to.

She looked back and forth between us, and smiled at me with a wink.

"Hello, Mr. McCarty," she said with a smile, holding her hand out to him. "I'm Sydney Campbell."

He took her small hand in both of his large ones and smiled down at her.

"Eve was just telling me that you are a big fan," he said, oozing his infamous, panty-dropping charm.

"Oh, well, yes I am," she replied, glancing at me in confusion.

"Yes," I interjected quickly, silently begging her to go along with me. "I was telling him how you didn't want to come here alone, and asked me to accompany you."

"Did you say Sydney Campbell, Lacey Mallory's agent?" Emmett asked, and began looking around excitedly. "Is she here?"

"Um, no, I'm sorry," Syd replied, slicing her eyes at me. "She still insists on maintaining her anonymity."

"I was really hoping she'd be here," Emmett said, disappointment clearly evident in his voice. "I'd really like to thank her for writing these books. The director told me Ms Mallory insisted I play Elliott. She's really helped my career."

"I'll be sure to tell her the next time I see her," Syd replied, biting her cheek to keep from chuckling. "Now, Eve, I'm very tired, and I'm going up to bed. You have your keycard, don't you?"

I nodded, my heart beginning to pound as she leaned forward to kiss my cheek.

"Behave yourself, missy," she whispered softly. "Just be sure to be very, very good. Goodnight, Mr. McCarty," she added politely, smiling at him.

Turning, with a wink at me, she walked away.

Looking back at Emmett, I took a deep breath.

"Thank you again for the drink," I said with a soft smile. "It was very kind of you."

"Kindness has little to do with it, sweetness," he replied, his eyes darkening to a deep midnight blue. "I find you very attractive, and I'd like to spend some time alone with you."

I gasped, my mind beginning to race.

Oh, God, what do I do now? Do I dare? He's laid it out there; do I take him up on it? Oh, hell, I want to. But what if...STOP! This is it, this is your chance. Go for it!

He looked away, embarrassed, rubbing the back of his neck.

"Look, I'm sorry," he said contritely, looking back down at me. "I never should have presumed…I just…I'm sorry."

He turned to walk away, and I reached out to stop him. That shock of electricity…I'd so often written about…shot through my fingers, causing me to gasp. It really did exist. He stopped, perplexed, looked down at my hand on his arm, and up to my face. Did he feel it, too?

"Please, I'd like to spend some time with you, too." I said softly.

He smiled, his dimples teasing his cheeks, and his eyes sparkling. He took the nearly full glass from my hand and set it on a table behind us then, grasping my elbow gently, he led me from the convention hall out to the bank of elevators across the lobby.

"Aren't you supposed to be back there meeting with your fans?" I asked as he pressed the elevator button impatiently.

"There are only fifteen minutes of the session left, and I don't think anyone will care," he replied as the doors slid open to reveal an empty car. He ushered me inside and pressed the penthouse button.

As the elevator rose, I glanced up to find Emmett staring down at me, a smile touching his lips.

"What?' I asked, as my stomach began to flutter.

"I just never thought I'd meet someone like you at one of these conventions," he said.

I cocked an eyebrow at him.

"You mean an 'old cougar' like me?" I said with a chuckle. "I am, you know, and I don't mind owning up to it."

"Oh, hell no!" he exclaimed. "I never even considered that. I just meant that you're not treating me like someone special. It's more like an ordinary guy meeting a beautiful girl; albeit with a heady sexual attraction. It doesn't happen very often, so when it does, I notice."

"Well, I'm not one of those teen fangirls," I said quietly, looking into his eyes. "I'm a mature woman who knows what she wants."

The air began to crackle around us as we stared at each. Taking a step toward me, he reached around and pressed the emergency stop button on the control panel, then straightened back up in front of me, his eyes darkening as he took a deep breath.

"And what do you want, Eve?" he asked huskily, placing his hands on my hips, drawing me closer to him.

I laid my hands on his chest and looked up into those beautiful eyes.

"You," I whispered seductively, sliding my arms up around his neck, and pulling his face down to mine.

He captured my mouth in a hungry kiss, and I whimpered. He reached around me again, pressing the start button without breaking the kiss.

As the elevator doors opened, he whispered against my lips, "Your suite or mine?"

"Syd's in mine," I replied.

He nodded and, taking my hand, led me to a door at the opposite end of the hall from my suite. Opening it, he pulled me inside, and as the door closed, I found myself pressed against it, his body holding me there. His mouth fastened on mine, his sweet tongue swiping across my bottom lip. I opened my mouth and greedily drew that tongue deep inside.

After a few moments of heady kisses, he pulled back, resting his forehead against mine.

"Damn, woman," he growled. "Are you trying to drive me crazy?"

I smiled.

"That's the idea," I replied softly. "I want you to let loose, Emmett McCarty. Syd's told me all manner of things about you."

"Oh," he said with a grin, his dimples on full display. "What else does she think she knows about me?"

I tightened my arms around his neck, pulling him closer to me. He hissed, sliding his hands down to grasp my hips, and pull me tighter against him, letting me feel his hardened cock. I mewled.

Oh, my God! He feels just like I imagined, long and thick. Fuck!

"Well," I whispered, taking a shuddering breath. "She also told me that you keep a spoon and a jar of peanut butter…creamy…next to your bed, and hold a spoonful of it against the roof of your mouth, letting it melt slowly, before you go to sleep."

Raising my face, I swiped my tongue across that soft, full-lipped mouth.

"I love peanut butter, too," I murmured into his mouth. "It's thick and creamy and slides down the throat so warm and smooth."

He inhaled deeply, his eyes darkening even more as he gazed into my smoldering green ones.

"I love honey with my peanut butter," he whispered, his mouth barely touching mine. "The taste is incredible when it melts on my tongue; salty and sweet."

"Oh, God," I moaned, pressing my mouth to his. "I want to taste it, too."

Suddenly my hands were tangled in his thick curls as he lifted me up, and I wound my legs tightly around him, rubbing myself against his hardness. A frenzy of lips and tongues and hands began as he carried me into the bedroom. He set me on my feet, staring down at me as we panted, hearts racing.

I reached down for the hem of my shirt, and he caught my wrist gently, stopping me.

"Let me, please?" he murmured quietly.

I raised my arms as he pulled the shirt over my head and tossed it behind him. He stood back and gazed hungrily at my lace-covered breasts. I stepped forward and, reaching up, slid his blazer off of his shoulders and down his arms, letting it fall to the floor. Then I began to slowly unbutton his shirt, leaning close to lick and nip each inch of skin as it was bared to me, down to the top of his jeans. In seconds, I had his shirt on the floor with his jacket, and I'd unbuckled his belt.

My bra was the next to come off. He deftly opened the front clasp freeing my full round breasts, allowing them to fall into his waiting hands. We both groaned as he grazed his thumbs across my already hard and distended nipples.

"Holy fuck, they're real," he murmured, bending forward. "You don't know how tired I am of the hard plastic that is Hollywood."

Then I felt the moist warmth of his mouth surround my nipple.

His gentle tug and draw sent a flood of moisture to my already soaked panties. I whimpered as I ran a hand through his curls and pressed his face to me, arching into him. His hand rose to caress my other breast, tracing the nipple with his thumb.

Reaching down between us, I unbuttoned and unzipped his jeans. He raised his head and looked up at me, his lips wet and swollen from making love to my breasts. Holding on to my forearms, he toed off his shoes. Then I pushed his jeans down his hips, allowing them to fall to his ankles. He stepped out of them, pulling his socks off at the same time, and kicked them to the side. As he was divesting himself, I unfastened and slid my own jeans over my hips and down my legs.

We stood for a moment, me in my sodden lace panties, and he in his boxer briefs, feasting our eyes on one another. Then I knelt before him and pulled the briefs down over his lean hips. I was rewarded with the sight I had dreamed about and longed for. Gasping, I licked my lips as I gazed up into his eyes.

Suddenly I was lifted and laid gently in the middle of the bed, with Emmett crawling to me. His arms were around me before I even realized it, and his mouth devoured mine as his hands ghosted down my body. His lips trailed across to my jaw with nibbles and licks, traveling to my ear where he took the lobe between his teeth and bit gently. I moaned, and lifted my chin, giving him better access to my throat. He placed opened-mouthed kisses down my neck, leaving a trail of wetness to my collarbones and down to my breasts, where he licked and sucked until I trembled.

"Oh fuck, Emmett," I groaned, pressing his shoulders downward. "Please, baby."

He raised his head and looked into my hooded eyes, his swirling with lust.

"What, sweetness?" he asked huskily. "Tell me what you want. How can I make you happy?"

"Taste my honey, baby, please." I begged. "I need your mouth and tongue on me and in me."

"My pleasure, babe," he whispered, and continued his southerly journey, placing heated kisses down my stomach toward his goal. Slipping his fingers under the elastic of my panties, he grasped the scrap of lace, slid them over my hips and down my legs, finally tossing them to the floor.

Rising up onto his knees, he spread my legs wide and, bending back down, he cupped my ass, raising me to his mouth. Slowly he ran his nose up the outside of my sex, and inhaling deeply, he moaned.

"You smell so fuckin' awesome," he whispered, his warm breath causing me to shiver.

Then he flat-tongued me from bottom to top, with a swirl around my engorged clitoris. I moaned and bucked my hips in response, another flood of moisture flowing into his mouth.

"Mmmm," he hummed as he lapped up all that I poured onto his tongue.

He then began, to make love to me in earnest with his tongue and fingers, and it wasn't long before I felt the tightening in my belly.

"Oh, God…Emmett," I groaned, writhing beneath his face. "Oh God, oh God, oh God…I'm gonna…Oh holy fuck, I'm coming!"

He plunged two fingers into me as he bit gently on my clit, and I flew over the edge, feeling as though I were flying weightlessly out into space. He kept pumping and nibbling until my spasms began to cease, and I felt myself return to the bed with him.

Then he was at my side again, pulling me into his arms. I took his face in my hands.

"Let me taste the honey, baby," I whispered, placing my mouth on his, sucking and licking my essence off of him. "Oh, God, how sweet."

After a couple of minutes, I gently pushed him onto his back.

"Sweetness, you don't have to…" he started.

I placed my fingers to his lips, shaking my head.

"Are you trying to deprive me of my peanut butter? It's not gonna happen sweet cheeks."

I swung my leg over him and sat up, straddling him. Leaning down, I kissed his lips, swiping my tongue through the inside of his mouth once. Then I began my sensual path, kissing, nibbling and sucking over his jaw and down his throat. Pausing to nip at his Adam's apple, I continued down to the indentation between his collarbones. I licked there, dipping the tip of my tongue inside it. His nipples were rock hard and begging to be sucked, so I obliged, eliciting a deep groan from him.

I continued down, kissing every part of his skin that I could reach, his throbbing cock nudging my stomach, my chest, my chin, and I was finally where I wanted to be. I looked up at him through my lashes as I took him gently but firmly into my hands. Grasping him with both hands, one on top of the other, I couldn't cover the length of him, nor did my fingers meet my thumbs around his girth. I trembled with excitement at the thought of him filling me, and took the tip of him into my mouth, swirling my tongue and lapping up the pearls of precum. I groaned, causing his hips to buck up into me. He tasted so incredibly delicious.

"Oh fuck, babe," he hissed. "Your mouth feels so good…Ahh!"

I began to earnestly lick and suck his shaft, taking him as deeply as I was able into my mouth, using my hands to stroke and pump the rest. Taking one hand, I cupped his balls, massaging them gently, while continuing to swallow more of him. Relaxing, I took him to the back of my throat, and hummed, swallowing against him.

I felt his balls begin to tighten, and gently squeezed the seam between them with my thumb and forefinger.

"Oh shit…Geez…Oh Eve…Gahh!" he shouted, throwing his head back into the pillows as he exploded into my mouth, shooting streams of warm, smooth creaminess down my throat.

I kept swallowing until every drop was gone and his cock was still. Pulling him from my lips with a soft pop, I looked up as he gripped my shoulders and pulled me up to devour my mouth. We both groaned at the exquisite flavor of our combined essences: peanut butter and honey.

"Oh, hell yeah," he said huskily, "Creamy peanut butter and honey. Where have you been all my life, Eve?"

"Waiting for you to find me, Emmett," I replied, kissing his jaw and running my tongue along it. "Yes, that was by far the best peanut butter and honey I have ever tasted. Oh, please, give me more."

I glued my mouth to his as we licked and sucked each other clean.

Feeling him begin to harden again, I reached down and gave him a few strokes. A wave of want swept over me as I rolled onto my back, pulling him on top of me.

"Now, baby," I whispered seductively into his ear. "I need you to fuck me for real, hard and fast!"

"Thought you'd never ask," he growled, sliding between my knees.

Rising up, he hitched one of my legs around his hip. Placing his now fully erect and throbbing cock at the entrance to my waiting center, he began to inch his way slowly into me, giving me time to adjust to his size. But it was too slow for me. I lifted my hips sharply, causing him to fill me completely.

"Oh, my God, Emmett!" I cried out.

He stiffened. "Damn, sweetness," he cried. "Why did you…? I'm so sorry…"

I stopped his apology by covering his mouth with my hand.

"Shhh," I whispered haltingly, the exquisite feel of him inside of me causing me to quiver. "Oh Emmett, you feel wonderful! Don't stop, please!"

Slowly he began to create a rhythm that suited us both. From this angle, I could feel his cock slide across my clit with each thrust in, and caress that special spot coming out. He kept the slow, steady rhythm, and I matched him thrust for thrust, flexing my muscles to create more friction for him. Soon I began to feel that tightening again and I knew I was close.

"Emmett, baby," I panted. "It won't be long. I need you to pound into me, harder and faster."

He picked up the pace, and I knew he was almost there, too, when his thrusts became erratic and almost painful.

"Oh… babe," he grunted, "I'm gonna come…sweetness…right…Oh, fuuuccck…NOW!"

I felt my muscles tighten around his throbbing cock, and I followed seconds later, screaming his name. A few moments later, he collapsed on top of me, and we lay wrapped in each other's arms until we could breathe normally again. Then, gathering me close, he rolled us onto our sides and held me, still joined. I hadn't felt so full, and at home for a long time.

"Are you okay, sweet Eve?" he whispered, brushing the damp hair out of my face.

"Oh, more than okay, baby," I whispered back, kissing him sweetly. "You don't know what this means to me. It's a memory I'll have for the rest of my life."

"I think we can make more memories, babe," he said, kissing my throat. "Do you want to start right now?"

I felt him begin to harden again, filling me up. Rolling us back over, I straddled him, and we began again.

We made hot, passionate love all night long, but we also talked—really talked. He was intelligent and exceptionally well read. He had decisive views on life, and knew what he wanted to do with his. By the time the sun rose the next morning, he had asked me to be his companion for the rest of the weekend, and I'd readily agreed.

When I awoke later that morning, I was alone. Lying on the pillow next to me was a note from Emmett asking me to join him for lunch at noon in the hotel lounge. Smiling, I got out of bed, and hugged myself, twirling, and happy. This was what I had fantasized about for six years.

I dressed, and headed down the hall to the suite I shared with Syd. As I closed the door behind me, she came out of her bedroom, dressed to kill.

"Well, you're finally back," she said, smirking playfully, fastening an earring. "I can't wait to hear about it, but I have a brunch date with a hot agent. I'll be back around two o'clock. Will you be here?"

"I'm not sure," I replied. "It depends on how long my lunch with Emmett lasts. I know he has photo ops this afternoon, so I'll probably be here."

"Okay, sweetie," she said, kissing my cheek, starting for the door.

She stopped and, turning back, took me by the shoulders and looked at me carefully. An enormous grin split her face.

"You look happier than I've seen you look in a long time, Eve. I like it," she said, glancing at her watch. "Damn, I've gotta go. See you later. You're gonna dish all the deets, you hear me?"

"Just go on," I answered with a laugh. "We'll talk when we get back."

She left, and I began to prepare for my own lunch date. After showering and pampering myself with my favorite Red scented powder, lotion and perfume, I decided to dress up a bit, choosing a silk wrap-around dress in emerald green. It was a favorite that clung to my curves, and swirled daintily around my knees as I walked. White, strappy heels made my legs look longer. My make-up was understated in soft shades of green and peach, and my hair lay full and shining on my shoulders. Perusing myself in the full-length mirror behind the bathroom door, I was pleased with how I looked, and hoped that Emmett would be, too.

At a quarter to twelve, I approached the hotel lounge with a spring in my step and a smile on my face. I hadn't felt this alive in ten years.

I quickly stepped into the doorway, and eagerly looked around for Emmett. I saw him stand, and had started toward him, when a beautiful blonde woman approached and threw her arms around his neck, kissing him passionately…Rosalie Hale.

As I watched, his hands came up to embrace her, causing a burning heat to sweep through my body, and a fog to envelop my brain. With a gasp, I turned and ran across the lobby to the elevators. I went straight up to the suite and, with trembling hands, packed my bags. Leaving a note for Syd telling her that I had to get home, I left to catch a taxi to the airport. This had been a mistake, and I was going home to my mountain cabin, my refuge.

I was totally numb as the cab pulled away from the curb, barely registering the commotion at the hotel door. I heard my name being shouted, and glanced back to see Emmett standing in the middle of the street. He watched my taxi drive away as Rosalie tugged on his arm. Turning, I laid my head against the back of the seat, a single tear sliding down my cheek.

Arriving at the airport, I shut my feelings down and went through the motions of purchasing a ticket on the next flight…to anywhere. I just needed to get away from Vegas.

In two hours, I'd arrived in El Paso where I booked the next available flight to northwest Arkansas. Six hours later I landed in Bentonville and headed to my car, which was parked in the long-term parking area. Within an hour, I was turning down the dark two-mile lane leading to my cabin.

Grabbing my bags from the back seat of my Kia Sportage, I wearily carried them up the porch steps to the front door. As I turned my key in the lock, a huge ball of white fur came careening around the side of the cabin, and I put my hands out to stop from being knocked down as huge paws landed on my shoulders.

"Hey, Lobo," I greeted him with a small chuckle. "Careful, boy—calm down—sit."

He sat, his tail thumping the porch while I pushed open the door. I smiled indulgently as he dashed by me and ran for his food bowl. Kicking the door closed, I sat my bags just inside the entrance to the hall and turned back into the kitchen.

"What's the matter, boy? Didn't Ben feed you well enough?" I chuckled as I reached into the cupboard for his dog food, and poured it into his bowl. "I'll have to call him to let him know I'm home early, and not to worry where you are."

Ben Cheney was my nearest neighbor, and had been happy to dog-sit for me.

After feeding and watering my dog, I picked up my bags and took them to my bedroom. I forced myself to put things away, tossing the dirty clothes into the hamper and storing the empty bags in the back of my closet.

Taking off my jacket, I realized my cell was in my pocket, still turned off from landing. I turned it on and flipped it open to find fifteen messages from Syd. I groaned and set it on the nightstand. I wasn't ready to deal with her yet.

Lying back on my bed, I finally let myself begin to feel, going over the events of the past few hours. The tears began to flow, turning into deep heartbroken sobs. I must have cried myself to sleep because the next thing I knew, I was curled on my side with Lobo licking my face and whining. Reaching out, I scratched behind his ear. He placed his front paws up on the bed and nudged my cheek with his muzzle.

"Oh, Lobo," I murmured, burying my face in his neck. "I should have known that you were meant to be the only man in my life. I know I can count on your unconditional love."

Sighing, I got up, washed my face, brushed my teeth and went to bed. After a sleepless night, I rose and began a new day, with a new heaviness in my heart.

It took a couple of days for me to realize I had set myself up for this hurt. I should have listened to my instincts and not gone to the convention. I had known that I would have a hard time keeping my feelings reined in. I had been alone too long; my emotional attachment to Elliott caused me to make mistakes where Emmett was concerned. But I had been weak and let Syd talk me into going.

My obsession had blinded me into believing that my fantasies were real. I had become so caught up in them that the line between reality and fantasy had become blurred.

Sydney had been right to worry about the unhealthy state I had thrown myself into. I knew it was only sex for Emmett, but after our conversations, I had let myself believe it was more.

I forced myself to stay off of the entertainment websites and, for the first time in six years, I sat down at my computer and wrote a piece that didn't involve Elliott or Emmett. It was a short story, and I was pleased with it.

Two weeks after returning home, I finally returned all of Sydney's calls with one of my own.

"Hey," I said when she answered.

"Where in hell have you been?" she shouted. "I've been worried sick. I was giving you one more day before callin' the state police. Do you realize how scared I've been?"

'I know, and I'm sorry, Syd," I apologized. "I just had to leave."

"Why? What happened?" she asked. "Do you know that Emmett went crazy after you left?"

"I'm sorry," I said again.

She was silent for a long moment.

"Tell me what happened, Eve," she finally said softly. "Why did you leave so abruptly?"

I told her of the beautiful night that Emmett and I had spent together, how he asked me to be with him throughout the convention, and to meet him for lunch at noon, and how, when I arrived at the restaurant, I saw him kiss Rosalie Hale.

"I was devastated at the time, Syd, but it has turned out for the best," I concluded. "I'm aware of how fixated I was on the whole trilogy and Emmett, through Elliott, in particular. I've seen a psychologist and have a weekly appointment with her."

"I'm glad, sweetie," she said. "I think it will be good for you to get out and have someone to talk to."

She was quiet for a moment before taking a deep breath. She began to speak again.

"I know that you probably don't want to hear this," she said quietly. "But, I think I owe it to you, and to Emmett."

"No, Syd, I don't," I started firmly. "I think…"

"Just listen for a minute…please?" she interrupted.

"All right," I said with a sigh, closing my eyes. "Tell me."

"After you left, Emmett went a little crazy," she repeated. "He made a scene in front of the hotel, told Rosalie that it was over between them. He stated that he had told her before, and that this time she had better listen and take it to heart. There were a number of paparazzi around taking it all in, as well as other hotel guests. She left in tears. He fulfilled his contractual obligations for the convention, but just barely. His heart just wasn't in it anymore."

"Oh, Syd," I said sadly. "That's the last thing I wanted. I want him to be happy."

"Well, he's not," she said tersely. "He's been driving me nuts wanting to know where you are."

"You haven't…" I started.

"No, I haven't told him," she replied. "And he doesn't know that you are Lacey Mallory, either. That's not mine to tell. Will you do me a favor, though? Think about seeing him and telling him. I think it would make you both feel better."

"All right," I replied unhappily. "For you, I'll think about 'coming out' as Lacey Mallory. But I don't think I could handle seeing Emmett."

"Fair enough," she said.

"I've written a short story I'd like you to read," I told her. "It's not about vampires, and I think it's pretty good. If you think so, send it on to the publisher, okay?"

"Good, you need to be spreading that imagination of yours around to other genres. Of course, I'll send it on."

We talked a while longer then hung up, after agreeing to talk again at the end of the week.

Slowly, my life returned to my normal routine. I spent four hours each morning writing, working on a book of short stories. Most of my afternoons were free and filled with a myriad of everyday activities, from gardening to taking long walks with Lobo. I visited Dr. Danvers each Monday afternoon, and was beginning to feel better about myself again.

Early one hot afternoon at the end of August, I was outside trying to bathe my silly dog. He had run from me, and I had finally found him rolling in the mud down by the creek that ran through my property. So there I was, dressed in denim shorts and a tank top, drenched from head to toe, trying to rinse the shampoo off of him.

Suddenly Lobo stood still, a low growl sounding in his chest. He growled again, louder this time, and took off running, barking menacingly, toward the edge of the clearing where the lane to the highway began.

"Lobo!" I shouted, running after him. "Come back here! Lobo!"

I stopped running, seeing someone walking down the lane.

"Who in the hell is stupid enough to walk in this heat?" I asked myself, hands on my hips.

Then I watched in disbelief as Lobo hunkered down in front of the stranger who squatted before him, stretching out his hand.

"Some watchdog," I murmured, shaking my head and chuckling. "Lobo!"

Ignoring me, Lobo suddenly jumped up on the man, knocking him on his ass. Then I heard it and froze—that hearty booming laugh, echoing through the trees and out into the clearing. I began to tremble.

He stood up and started back up the lane, Lobo prancing around him.

"Traitor dog," I mumbled, narrowing my eyes. "And apparently I need to find a new agent, too."

I took a shuddering breath and straightened my spine as he approached and stopped a few feet before me, dropping a large duffel bag at his feet. For a long moment, he just stared at me.

"Eve," he said softly, stepping forward and raising his hand toward my cheek.

Gasping, I stepped out of reach and turned to walk back to the cabin. I knew I couldn't let him touch me, not now…not ever.

"What are you doing here, Emmett?" I asked coolly.

Suddenly I remembered that he'd been walking. I stopped and turned around, running right into his chest. Jumping back, I looked up at him angrily. Anger was the only emotion I was allowing myself to feel. Anything else would have had me crumbling at his feet, and I was determined not to let that happen.

"How did you get here?" I snapped. "Where is your car?"

He looked at me, a smile tugging at his lips as his eyes raked down my body. Looking down, I realized that my bare breasts were visible through my wet tank top, my nipples standing stiffly at attention. Blushing, I crossed my arms, covering myself as I waited for his answer.

"Well, I met this nice couple on the plane and we got to talking. When they found out I was headed here, they offered me a ride," he replied, humor in his voice. "It seems they live around here, too. Maybe you know them, Mr. and Mrs. Rafferty?"

I stayed silent, just staring at him.

"I was going to rent a car, but thought that I'd take them up on their offer," he continued. "They were nice enough to drop me off at the end of your lane. I had walked for a while before I was greeted by that monster of a dog of yours. By the way, what is he?"

Before I could stop myself, I smiled down at Lobo, who sat next to Emmett's feet.

"He's half Great Pyrenees and half white wolf," I replied, squatting down to ruffle his fur. "He's my main man, aren't you, buddy?"

"He's great," Emmett replied, coming down on the other side and scratching Lobo's ears.

His fingers accidentally brushed mine and I pulled away quickly when the electricity sparked between us again. He stared at me as he reached out and took my hand in his. My breath caught and I stood up, pulling my hand away.

"So, how do you plan on getting back to town?" I asked as I turned to empty the tub which I'd filled with Lobo's bath water. "It's a long walk. Maybe you can phone the Raffertys to come and get you. There are plenty of motels and B&Bs in town."

"They've gone to pick up their children at her folks' house," he replied. "I take it that it's quite a ways away, as they said it would be late when they got back."

He picked up the hose and rolled it onto the wheel nailed to the porch post as I picked up the dog shampoo and the towel.

Leaning the tub against the side of the cabin, I climbed the steps to the porch. When I got to the door, I turned to see him standing at the bottom, looking up at me expectantly. I sighed.

"I'd take you to town myself, but my car is in the shop. They're supposed to come and get me when it's finished," I said resignedly. "I guess you'll have to stay here tonight…on the couch. I'll try to call the Raffertys in the morning."

I turned to go inside when I heard him mutter.

"Don't put yourself out," he said, a hint of anger and something else…hurt? his voice. "Have you got a barn or shed that I can crash in?"

I stopped, my back to him, as I felt the guilt wash over me. Why was I being harsh? I wasn't angry at him, I was angry for letting myself be drawn to him in the first place, and for letting that draw turn into a full blown obsession. He didn't know who I was, other than Eve Donnelly. Contritely, I slowly turned to face him.

"I'm sorry for being so rude," I apologized. "Please, come in."

He picked up his bag and followed me inside, setting it on the floor near the couch.

"This is nice, Eve…beautiful, actually," he said, looking around. "How long have you been here?"

"Almost ten years," I replied. "I bought the place after move from Little Rock."

"It suits you," he said with a smile.

I didn't reply and, after an awkward silence, he spoke quietly.

"Look, do you mind if I take a shower?" he asked. "I'm hot and sticky."

"That's what you get for walking in this heat and humidity," I teased before catching myself and frowning. "Come on, I'll show you where everything is."

Grabbing his bag, he followed me down the hall to the bathroom, and I heard him gasp.

"My God, Eve, this is huge!" he exclaimed, taking in my state-of-the-art bathroom.

"The one thing I had always wanted was a bathroom I could move around in," I said. "It had to have a separate shower and tub, a huge vanity, and a closet for my towels and supplies."

"Well, you got what you wanted," he said, shaking his head.

I took a set of towels from the closet and handed them to him.

"You shower while I finish supper," I said. "I've made a ground turkey meatloaf, spinach and a salad. All I have left to prepare are the mashed potatoes. Hope you like lots of butter in them."

"Uh, you don't have to fix any for me," he said, a pained expression on his face. "I have to stick to a high protein, low fat, low carb diet in order to maintain Elliott's size for the last film."

"Oh, okay, but I'm fixing them for me," I replied. "I have to have mashed potatoes with my meatloaf, and not those pasty flakes, either. I only use real potatoes with condensed milk and butter. Guess it's a southern thing."

"Yeah," he said, closing his eyes and moaning softly. "That's the way my granny back in Tennessee makes them; so rich and creamy."

My heart jumped, and I closed my eyes, remembering another rich and creamy food he enjoyed.

"Oh, well, you shower and I'll see you in the kitchen," I said, turning away abruptly and leaving the room, closing the door quietly behind me.

In my bedroom, I leaned back against the door, my heart and mind racing as I banged my head back against it.

What am I doing? I can't do this again. I shouldn't do this again. But I want to do this again!

I stripped off my wet clothes and slipped a sleeveless, gauzy lounging shift, in muted shades of green, over my head. It was full, gathered at the low scooped neck, falling to my ankles. Sweeping my hair up into a messy ponytail, I crossed back to the door. I didn't think about underwear—I never wore them in the heat of the summer—there was never anyone around, it was normal for me.

Barefoot, I padded down the hall to the kitchen. I could hear the water running as I neared the bathroom door, and I felt my body flush as I hurried past.

I let out the breath I hadn't realized I'd been holding as I reached the kitchen. I shook myself, trying to calm down, and set to peeling a few potatoes.

I had just put them on to boil and was taking the meatloaf out of the oven, when I heard Emmett enter the kitchen. Lobo had been lying on his bed in the utility room and came running to him.

"Hey, boy," Emmett said as he stooped to ruffle the dog's ears.

I glanced down and swallowed the gasp that came to my throat. Emmett was wearing tight, low rise jeans and a blue tank top which had ridden up, exposing a portion of skin on his lower back. His hair was still wet, a few drops of water still glistening there and clinging to the back of his neck. I quickly turned away as he stood up, and grabbing plates and silverware, I proceeded to set the table.

"Would you let Lobo out the back door, please?" I asked, trying to keep the moan out of my voice.

"Uh, sure," he replied, looking at me strangely before taking the dog to the door.

The potatoes were bubbling merrily as I plated the meatloaf and placed the spinach in a bowl. I pulled the romaine lettuce, cucumber and tomato salad from the fridge and tossed it with a low-fat Italian dressing, proud that all the produce had come from my own small garden. Setting everything on the table, I went back to mash the potatoes.

After putting them into a serving bowl and topping them with more butter, I turned to put the pot in the sink. Without thinking, I ran my finger around the rim, scooping up a bit and putting it into my mouth. With an appreciative moan, I turned back to find Emmett close behind me, staring with a look of pure hunger on his face. Whether it was for me or the potatoes, I didn't know, but it made me shiver. Lowering my eyes, I picked up the bowl and walked around him to the table.

"Dinner's ready," I said, clearing my throat.

He came over to the small table and sat across from me. I handed him the meatloaf, and he placed a small slice on his plate, along with a good serving of spinach and salad. I served myself and remembered the drinks. Standing, I went to the fridge and pulled a bottle of water out for me.

"I have light beer, wine, milk or water, Emmett," I offered. "Which would you prefer?"

"Water is fine, thanks," he replied.

Pulling another bottle out, I walked back and set it in front of him before sitting back down. We ate quietly, making polite conversation. He complimented me on my cooking, and the soft moans he made in appreciation headed straight between my legs.

We were nearly finished when my desire for him became unbearable. I was trembling, and my self-restraint flew out the window. Pushing my plate away, I pulled the bowl of potatoes toward me. I picked up the serving spoon and swirled it through them, building a peak in the bowl and dipping it into the melted butter. I turned it up in front of me, letting the butter flow down the mound of creamy goodness.

Emmett looked up from his plate as I opened my mouth. I reached with the tip of my tongue to lick up the side of the potatoes, then wrapped my lips over the peak. His eyes widened as I worked the spoon in my mouth, and I closed my eyes and moaned at the deliciousness. Sliding the now-empty spoon from my mouth, I licked my lips, then the spoon. Scooping up more potatoes and butter, I started to my mouth with them when Emmett grabbed my wrist.

"What are you doing, Eve?" he asked huskily, his eyes drifting to my mouth as I licked my lips.

"I'm trying to seduce you, Emmett," I whispered, dropping the spoon before bending to kiss his hand. "I want you."

With a deep growl, he was up out of his chair and around the table, pulling me up into his arms. Wrapping his fingers around the nape of my neck, he attacked my lips, his tongue sweeping the remnants of the potatoes from my mouth.

With a whimper, I ran my hands down his back to grasp his firm ass and pressed myself against his hardness.

Before I could blink, he'd swept all of the dishes from the table onto the floor with one swipe of his arm. Lifting my dress, he pulled it over my head and tossed it behind him, his eyes smoldering as they raked my nakedness. He picked me up effortlessly and pressed me down onto the table, laying his chest on mine.

"As good as that slight taste of your potatoes was, sweetness," he whispered against my lips, "I know something even better that I want for dessert…your sweet honey."

"Oh, yes, please," I whimpered, throwing my forearm across my eyes.

Placing his hands beneath my shoulder blades, he lifted me to him and took my nipple into his mouth, licking and nipping and sucking. I arched my back, trying to push the rigid peak further into his mouth. Laying me back down, he began a slow exploration of my body. Leaving a hot, wet trail of kisses across my chest, he moved to the other breast, while gently kneading the first.

Traveling slowly down my body, his lips licked and kissed my skin wherever he could reach. He rimmed my navel with the tip of his tongue, and I whimpered as more moisture pooled between my legs. Placing my hands on his shoulders, I pressed him downward.

Standing, he grasped my hips gently and pulled my bottom to the edge of the table. Kneeling on the floor, he raised my knees over his shoulders and pulled me closer yet to the edge. Turning his head, he rained opened-mouthed kisses up one thigh, then the other, licking and biting gently. Then he was there, his lips a hair's breadth away, and I felt his warm breath as he whispered something against me. I didn't hear what he'd said, but before I could question him, his tongue was swiping through my wet folds, driving all other thoughts from my mind.

"Oh, my God, Emmett!" I groaned deeply. "Oh, baby, please."

Reaching down, I twined my fingers in his hair, holding him to me. His tongue was taking me places I hadn't been in a long time…well, not since our last encounter in Las Vegas Then he slid two fingers into me, pumping them in rhythm with his tongue. I felt my climax building and my muscles begin to tighten around his fingers.

"Ohh…sweet holy fuck…ahhh, Em!" I groaned deep in my chest; bucking up off of the table and shattering as wave after wave of intense orgasm washed over me.

Suddenly, while I was riding those waves, I felt him stand and thrust into me, hard, and begin to pound his way to his own orgasm. It wasn't long before he threw back his head and shouted his release.

He collapsed on top of me, and I wrapped my arms around him, stroking his sweat-slickened back. Rising up, he captured my mouth in a tender, loving kiss, and I whimpered as I tasted myself on his lips. He pressed his face to my breast and sighed.

As our bodies slowly began to calm, and our breathing return to normal, I began to giggle. He raised his head from my breast and grinned down at me.

"Who knew that a simple meal could lead to that?" I asked, running a finger across one of his dimples, and then my fingers through his curls.

"Who knew that mashed potatoes could send me over the edge?" he responded, lifting himself up off of me. "You sure know how to eat them."

I laughed softly, feeling myself blush.

Standing, he held his hand out to help me up. He pulled his jeans up and lowered my shift over my head, where it fell to my feet, then he pulled me to him and brushed my wild mane of hair back off of my face. After looking down into my eyes for a long moment, he cupped my cheek gently.

"You have me doing things I've never done before, woman," he said softly. "Where is this coming from? It's like I'm addicted to you because I want you again, right now."

I closed my eyes and pressed my cheek into his hand.

"I've tried to fight this, Emmett, but I can't anymore," I whispered. "You've come to mean too much to me."

I watched as a glimmer of confusion flickered in his eyes, and I knew the time had come for me to confess all.

Stepping away, I began to pick up the dishes off the floor; luckily there were no broken pieces. He helped me, and we silently cleared up the mess and loaded the dishwasher.

"I have something I need to show you," I said, taking his hand, and he looked at me questioningly. "Come with me."

I led him down the hall to my office, across from my bedroom. He looked around, confused at first, and then realized what I wanted him to see. On my desk were my computer and a few drafts of the stories I was writing for my new book.

"You're a writer?" he asked, and began to look around the room.

He perused my bookshelves, and if he noticed my set of the first edition Dusk Trilogy books, he didn't say anything. Turning back to my desk as if looking for something, he reached down and picked up a folder. Opening it, he gazed down at it for a moment.

He turned to me, and his eyes caught sight of what the door had previously hidden from him; my Dusk memorabilia collection, including a life-sized cut-out of Elliott. He was quiet for a moment, closing his eyes. Then he looked down at me, a stoic expression on his face.

"Why didn't you tell me that you're Lacey Mallory?" he asked quietly, holding the folder out toward me.

I gasped, recognizing the final draft from the last chapter of Morning, complete with the note from Syd congratulating me on finishing the Trilogy.

I stared up at him for a long moment before taking a deep breath.

"No one knows that except Syd, and now you," I replied. "Not even my publisher knows what Lacey Mallory looks like. I had to maintain my anonymity because of the way Michael was killed. But that's not the only reason."

"Who is Michael?" he asked, staring into my eyes, his face coming alive again.

"My husband," I replied, watching a myriad of emotions cross his face. He swallowed.

"What was the other reason?"

"Because I wanted to keep my Elliott to myself," I whispered.

"But…" he started, his brow furrowed in confusion.

"I know how crazy that sounds," I cried softly. "But you've got to understand, I just existed in this house. I had tried to write, but nothing worked. Then one day I was running the channels on the TV and a face filled the screen, your face. Emmett. You are my Elliott. I could share Elliott through my books, but my love for him is private. I was afraid that if I became known and traveled the circuit, I would lose that special part of him that is mine alone."

"Eve," he said gently. "I am not Elliott. I am Emmett McCarty, a flesh and blood man, not a character you have created. He is almost perfect—just a few little flaws. I am terribly flawed."

"I know that," I said, turning to stare out the window behind the desk. "When I came home from the convention, I was a mess. I finally realized my obsession with Elliott was unhealthy. Syd had been trying to get me to see that, but I had refused to even consider it. I was happy in my own little world with him. I'm seeing a therapist, and she has been helping me see where the lines between reality and fantasy had blurred."

I turned my head to see Emmett sitting on the edge of my desk, staring down at the floor. Walking over, I stood in front of him.

"I've finally been able to separate the two. Elliott is but the man of my imagination, perfect in all the ways any woman would want, but will never find" I whispered, cupping his face and looking deep into his troubled eyes. "But you, Emmett, are real. A real man with all the faults and flaws that make you truly perfect for any woman that you choose for yourself."

Dropping my hands from his face, I walked over to the life-sized cut-out of Elliott.

"I don't regret finding you on the TV screen, Emmett, because it did lead to a wonderful experience with this fictional hero," I said, touching the cardboard face. "But I am now clearly aware of what is real and what is not. Elliott will always have a special place in my heart, but I think that it's time to retire him. He'll always be available in the written word to those that want to be in his world for a while. For me, he'll be locked away in a corner of my heart, like Michael."

As I was talking, I disassembled the cut out, folded it, and put it away in the small closet near the display. We were both quiet for a long time.

"I'm going to take a shower," I said quietly. "Make yourself at home; I'll only be about thirty minutes."

He nodded, and I slipped out the door, down to the bathroom. Closing the door behind me, I stripped off my shift. I walked into the hot spray of the shower and, sliding down the wall to the floor, let the silent tears flow.

My mind began to whirl. Had I done the right thing, not only in telling him who I was, but explaining it all to him as well? Would he accept my explanation, or would he want to run as far away from me as possible? How would I handle either one?

I stood, and as I washed my body and my hair, I remembered the times we had been together. They were amazing, but if he decided I came with too much baggage, I would still have those beautiful memories.

Stepping from the shower, I dried myself and towel-dried my hair, deciding to let it dry into the natural waves and curls I usually straightened out. Wrapping the large bath sheet around my body, I padded into the bedroom. The sight before me stole my breath and brought tears to my eyes.

The French doors to my small back deck were open. I could see Emmett's back as he sat in my porch rocker, his feet up on the rail as he slowly rocked. Lobo lay on his left, and his arm was hanging down as he lazily scratched the dog's head. An open bottle of wine sat on the floor on his right. His right hand held a half empty glass that was resting on his denim-clad thigh.

The beautiful reds, yellows and golds of the panoramic sunset surrounded him like a spiritual aura. The colors highlighted the red strands hidden deep within his dark curls and reflected off of his strong, broad shoulders.

He looked more relaxed and peaceful than I had ever seen in any publicity or paparazzi photo. He looked tranquil and at ease.

As I gazed at the masculine perfection before me, I came to the realization that this man was special, more so than any fictional character I had created. He was warm flesh and blood with a kind and loving heart. He had made me come alive again, and I suddenly knew that I wanted him, not just physically but in every part of my life. My heart began to race as I finally admitted to myself that I was in love with Emmett McCarty.

Dropping my towel, I belted a short silk kimono around me and walked out to him.

"Hey," I said, standing at the rail next to his feet, looking out at nature's spectacle before me.

"Hi," he replied, smiling gently. "Did you have a good shower?"

"Most refreshing," I replied, looking at him over my shoulder with a smile.

He took my hand and turned me around to face him.

"You know, Emmett," I said, reaching out and combing his hair with my fingers. "If you want to stay, I think I'd like that very much."

"Yes, I'd like to stay, Eve," he replied, smiling happily. "And I want to know about Michael and you and to tell you about my family, all night long. Then I want to sleep until noon, and make love with you until four, and then start the day over again before we even get out of bed. I'd like you to show me your beautiful Ozarks, and I'd like to tell you about my Smokies."

He pulled me closer, settling me between his long, muscular legs. His broad palms splayed across my hips, holding me there.

"But, sweetness, I've gotta tell you, I'm going have to run into town if I'm going stay here for a while."

"I didn't realize that we were negotiating here," I said teasingly. "Alright, I'll concede one trip to town after I get my car back tomorrow. What'll it be Mr. McCarty?"

"We're gonna need some more potatoes."

I blushed.

And the woods vibrated with the hearty, booming laugh that echoed through them.