“I’m in a fabulous mood,” Maryanne said, smiling. Nolan had promised to pay her back by taking her out to dinner. He hadn’t set a definite date, but she half expected to hear from him that evening.

“In that case, I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings, but someone has to tell you, and I was appointed.”

“Tell me? What?” Maryanne glanced around the huge open office and noted that several faces were staring in her direction, all wearing sympathetic looks. “What’s going on?” she demanded.

Carol moved her arm out from behind her and Maryanne noticed that she was holding a copy of the rival paper’s morning edition. “It’s Nolan Adams’s column,” Carol said softly, her eyes wide and compassionate.

“W-what did he say this time?”

“Well, let’s put it this way. He titled it, ‘My Evening with the Debutante.’”

Chapter Two

Maryanne was much too furious to stand still. She paced her living room from one end to the other, her mind spitting and churning. A slow painful death was too good for Nolan Adams.

Her phone rang and she went into the kitchen to answer it. She reached for it so fast she nearly ripped it off the wall. Rarely did she allow herself to become this angry, but complicating her fury was a deep and aching sense of betrayal. “Yes,” she said forcefully.

“This is Max,” her doorman announced. “Mr. Adams is here. Shall I send him up?”

For an instant Maryanne was too stunned to speak. The man had nerve, she’d say that much for him. Raw courage, too, if he knew the state of mind she was in.

“Ms. Simpson?”

It took Maryanne only about a second to decide. “Send him up,” she said with deceptive calm.

Arms hugging her waist, Maryanne continued pacing. She was going to tell this man in no uncertain terms what she thought of his duplicity, his treachery. He might have assumed from their evening together that she was a gentle, forgiving soul who’d quietly overlook this. Well, if that was his belief, Maryanne was looking forward to enlightening him.

Her doorbell chimed and she turned to glare at it. Wishing her heart would stop pounding, she gulped in a deep breath, then walked calmly across the living room and opened the door.

“Hello, Maryanne,” Nolan said, his eyes immediately meeting hers.

She stood exactly where she was, imitating his tactic of leaning against the door frame and blocking the threshold.

“May I come in?” he asked mildly.

“I haven’t decided yet.” He was wearing the raincoat again, which looked even more disreputable than before.

“I take it you read my column?” he murmured, one eyebrow raised.

“Read it?” she nearly shouted. “Of course I read it, and so, it seems, did everyone else in Seattle. Did you really think I’d be able to hold my head up after that? Or was that your intention—humiliating me and…and making me a laughingstock?” She stabbed her index finger repeatedly against his solid chest. “And if you think no one’ll figure out it was me just because you didn’t use my name, think again.”

“I take it you’re angry?” He raised his eyebrows again, as if to suggest she was overreacting.

“Angry! Angry? That isn’t the half of it, buster!” The problem with being raised in a God-fearing, flag-loving family was that the worst thing she could think of to call him out loud was buster. Plenty of other names flashed through her mind, but none she dared verbalize. No doubt Nolan would delight in revealing this in his column, too.

Furious, she grabbed his tie and jerked him into the apartment. “You can come inside,” she said.

“Thanks. I think I will,” Nolan said wryly. He smoothed his tie, which drew her attention to the hard defined muscles of his chest. The last thing Maryanne wanted to do was notice how virile he looked, and she forced her gaze away from him.

Because it was impossible to stand still, she resumed her pacing. With the first rush of anger spent, she had no idea what to say to him, how to make him realize the enormity of what he’d done. Abruptly, she paused at the edge of her living room and pointed an accusing finger at him. “You have your nerve.”

“What I said was true,” Nolan stated, boldly meeting her glare. “If you’d bothered to read the column all the way through, objectively, you’d have noticed there were several complimentary statements.”

“’A naive idealist, an optimist…’” she said, quoting what she remembered, the parts that had offended her the most. “You made me sound like Mary Poppins!”

“Surprisingly unspoiled and gentle,” Nolan returned, “and very much a lady.”

“You told the entire city I was lonely,” she cried, mortified to even repeat the words.

“I didn’t say you were lonely,” Nolan insisted, his voice all too reasonable and controlled. That infuriated her even more. “I said you were away from your family for the first time.”

She poked his chest again, punctuating her speech. “But you made it sound like I should be in a day-care centre!”

“I didn’t imply anything of the kind,” he contended. “And I did mention what a good cook you are.”

“I’m supposed to be grateful for that? As I recall you said, I was ‘surprisingly adept in the kitchen’—as if you were amazed I knew the difference between a goldfish bowl and an oven.”

“You’re blowing the whole thing out of proportion.”

Maryanne barely heard him. “The comment about my being insecure was the worst. You want security, buster, you’re looking at security. My feet could be molded in cement, I’m that secure.” Defiant angry eyes flashed to him as she pointed at her shoes.

Nolan didn’t so much as blink. “You work twice as hard as anyone else at the Review, and twice as many hours. You push yourself because you’ve got something to prove.”

A strained silence followed his words. She did work hard, she was trying to prove herself, and Nolan knew it. Except for high school and college, she’d had no experience working at a newspaper.

“Did you wake up one morning and decide to play Sigmund Freud with my life?” she demanded. “Who, may I ask, gave you that right?”

“What I said is true, Maryanne,” he told her again. “I don’t expect you to admit it to me, but if you’re honest you’ll at least admit it to yourself. Your family is your greatest asset and your weakest link. From everything I’ve read about the Simpsons, they’re good people, but they’ve cheated you out of something important.”

“Exactly what do you mean by that?” she snapped, ready to defend her father to the death, if need be. How dared this pompous, arrogant, argumentative man insult her family?

“You’ll never know if you’re a good enough journalist to get a job like this without your father’s help. He handed you this plum position, and at the same time cheated you out of a just reward.”

Maryanne opened her mouth, an argument on the tip of her tongue. Instead, she lowered her gaze, since she couldn’t deny what he’d just said. From the moment she arrived at the Seattle Review, she’d known that Carol Riverside was the one who’d earned the right to be the local-affairs columnist, not her. And yet Carol had been wonderfully supportive and kind.

“It wasn’t my intention to insult you or your family,” Nolan continued.

“Then why did you write that column?” she asked, her voice quavering. “Did you think I was going to be flattered by it?”

He’d been so quick with the answers that his silence caught her attention more effectively than anything he could’ve said. She watched as he started pacing. He drew his fingers through his hair and his shoulders rose in a distinct sigh.

“I’m not sure. In retrospect, I believe I wanted to set the record straight. At least that was my original intent. I wrote more than I should have, but the piece was never meant to ridicule you. Whether you know it or not, you impressed the hell out of me the other night.”

“Am I supposed to be grateful you chose to thank me publicly?”

“No,” he answered sharply. Once more he jerked his fingers roughly through his hair. He didn’t wince, but Maryanne did—which was interesting, since only a few minutes earlier she’d been daydreaming about the joy she’d experience watching this man suffer.

“Inviting myself to dinner the other night was an impulse,” he admitted grudgingly. “The words slipped out before I realized what I was saying. I don’t know who was more surprised, you or me. I tried to act like I knew what I was doing, play it cool, that sort of thing. The fact is, I discovered I like you. Trust me, I wasn’t in any frame of mind to talk civilly to you when you got to the radio station. All along I’d assumed you were a spoiled rich kid, but I was wrong. Since I’d published several pieces that suggested as much, I felt it was only fair to set the record straight. Besides, for a deb you aren’t half-bad.”

“Why is it every time you compliment me I feel a knife between my shoulder blades?”

“We certainly don’t have a whole lot in common,” Nolan said thoughtfully. “I learned most everything I know on the streets, not in an expensive private school. I doubt there’s a single political issue we can agree on. You’re standing on one side of the fence and I’m way over on the other. We’re about as far apart as any two people could ever be. Socially. Economically. And every other way I could mention. We have no business even speaking to each other, and yet we sat down and shared a meal and talked for hours.”

“I felt betrayed by that column today.”

“I know. I apologize, although the damage is already done. I guess I wasn’t aware it would offend you. Like I said, that wasn’t what I intended at all.” He released a giant sigh and paused, as though collecting his thoughts. “After I left your place, I felt good. I can’t remember a time I’ve enjoyed myself more. You’re a charming, interesting—”

“You might have said that in your column!”

“I did, only you were obviously too upset to notice it. When I got home that night, I couldn’t sleep. Every time I’d drift off, I’d think of something you’d said, and before I knew it I’d be grinning. Finally I got up and sat at my desk and started writing. The words poured out of me as fast as I could type them. The quality that impressed me the most about you was your honesty. There’s no pretense in you, and the more I thought about that, the more I felt you’ve been cheated.”

“And you decided it was your duty to point all this out—for everyone in town to read?”

“No, it wasn’t. That’s why I’m here. I admit I went further than I should have and came over to apologize.”

“If you’re telling me this to make me feel better, it isn’t working.” Her ego was rebounding somewhat, but he still had a lot of apologizing to do.

“To be honest, I didn’t give the column a second thought until this afternoon, when someone in the office said I’d really done it now. If I was hoping to make peace with you, I’d failed. This friend said I was likely to get hit by the wrath of a woman scorned and suggested I run for cover.”